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These "Sensitive Santas" Make Christmas Extra Special For Kids With Autism

"For a lot of our families it's their very first picture they’ve ever had with Santa."

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Visiting Santa at the local mall is a rite of passage for many Canadian kids. But, for those on the Autism spectrum, the crowds, noise, and idea of sitting on a stranger's lap is too overwhelming.

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However, some dedicated Santas are making sure no one has to miss out. Several organizations in Canada are offering time with "Sensitive Santas" — a quieter, more intimate experience with Saint Nick.

Kids Uncomplicated

In Edmonton, Kids Uncomplicated — an organization for families with children with disabilities — tailored each kids visit with Santa to their specific needs.

"It started three years ago when one of our aides told us about a family she was working with who tried to go to a mall stand and the kid just had a complete meltdown," Macy Mickelson, senior program coordinator for Kids Uncomplicated, told BuzzFeed Canada.

With this program, families spend time in a quiet room with a Santa who's been briefed on each kids' individual needs. Mickelson said, for example, some kids prefer that all the lights be off with Santa pretending to sleep. Other kids have preferred to communicate with an iPad or simply start the session with a high-five.

"Our Santa will watch a movie with your little one, they’ll read a book with them, it’s a low-pressure situation," said Mickelson.

Kids Uncomplicated

About 40 families booked a 20-minute session with Santa this year, though some kids who need longer can come back and try again. One little boy needed two hours before he felt comfortable, but that's okay.

"For a lot of our families it's their very first picture they’ve ever had with Santa," said Mickelson.

"It is something [other families] take for granted — they just think they can go to a regular mall and get a picture but for some families it’s very difficult."

Mickelson said there's a huge demand out there for Sensitive Santas, and there are a few places already addressing the need.

In Saskatchewan, Autism Services Saskatoon partnered with Lawson Heights Mall to allow parents of kids with special needs to visit Santa after hours once the crowds have gone home.

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According to Global News, about 23 families took advantage of the quiet time with Santa this year.

Northgate Square Mall in North Bay, Ontario, had their own Sensitive Santa on hand with help from Autism Ontario. Two dozen families stopped by for appointments with the jolly guy in a relaxing environment with dimmed lighting before the mall opened.

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One mother, Tasheena Sarazin, told CTV Northern Ontario that her son hadn't been able to visit Santa for four years until now.

"I don't know how many times we've walked past Santa because I know there's no way he's going to be able to wait in line, so the appointment part of this morning is absolutely perfect," she told CTV.

Lauren Strapagiel is Managing Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Contact Lauren Strapagiel at lauren.strapagiel@buzzfeed.com.

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