Johnson City

Local mall dials up Christmas magic for special needs kids

JOHNSON CITY, Tn. - Sitting on Santa's lap in a busy mall and telling him your Christmas wish list, while parents hover and snap pictures is a holiday tradition, but many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder never get the chance.
The mall can be too overwhelming.
But The Mall at Johnson City has something to help kids with special needs and made some Christmas magic Sunday morning.
Without music or shoppers, the mall is quiet except for one sound. Laughter.
Some here have Autism or a family member with the disorder,  but they are all paying a visit to Santa.
Seoc O'Brien's has Asbergers. He got to read his Christmas list to Santa.  "Bass guitar, tam and drum set, video creeper and steve," said O'Brien.
Occupational therapist Rosellen Ryals works with many of these children at her clinic.
 She said this is the first time some of them will meet Santa.
"Some noises are too high. It's almost like having a fire alarm going off all the time," said Ryals.
So the mall has turned off the music and flashing Christmas lights for a couple of hours.     
"This is one of the few things we can participate in as an autistic family and be able to enjoy and not have the stress of  'is it going to  build up too much anxiety,''said Libby Thebian, mother of a 10-year-old boy with Autism. "We get to come and just have the childhood memories of being with Santa."

This is the fifth year The Mall at Johnson City has held the program.

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