A picture with Santa Claus is a Christmas tradition, but for children with sensory disorders, like autism, it can be scary and an overwhelming experience.
On Saturday the Mall at Johnson City offered a one-of-a-kind visit with Santa for these children.
Sitting on Santa's lap is a memory that nine-year-old McKayla Moskal will be cherishing for a long time. "I think I'm going to frame it in my living room," she said.
In fact, the little girl hasn't had a picture with Santa since she was three years old, but this year is different. "She can sit and talk to Santa now. He knows her condition, instead of just rushing her through a line. He took time with her and understood her and she was really comfortable," added Michelle Moskal, McKayla's mom.
That's because the Mall at Johnson City dimmed the lights, turned off the music, and opened their doors early hosting the annual Sensitive Santa, to help kids with sensory disorders like autism. "Because of the sensory overload that so many of these kids get, the experience of Santa is never going to happen," said Barbara Talbert with the Autism Society of America Northeast Tennessee.
News 5 learned the sights and sounds of the holiday season can be overwhelming and chaotic for children with sensory disorders. Often they react simply because they're trying to grasp what's happening around them. "Sometimes the pictures don't turn out so great and it just doesn't seem to be an enjoyable experience for us or the kids," said Ashley McBee, mother to five-year-old twin boys Hunter and Chase McBee.
But on this day, only big smiles could be found in pictures making this a unique and sensory friendly visit with Santa.
Here are some more facts autism according to the Autism Society of America: It is the fastest growing developmental disability. Nearly 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. There is no known cause of autism.