"Sensitive Santa" event helps children with sensory disorders
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - The Mall at Johnson City opened early to allow children with sensory disorders to see Santa. Most of the mall remained closed, which allowed the kids to avoid bright lights, loud noises and large crowds. The calmer atmosphere helped the children feel more comfortable meeting Santa. Victoria Marrs' son, Steven, who was born prematurely, was among them. "Our son was a 26-weeker in the NICU, so he gets a little overwhelmed when there are too many people around," Marrs said. "This is a better way for him to know what's going on and to be able to handle it." Normally, the mall scares Steven. "He usually would just cry when he saw Santa," Marrs said. "He would get a little overwhelmed and kind of shut down." Therapists brought in a ball pit, sandboxes, and other activities to help ease the kids in. The slower pace helped Steven. "He loved it. He's been playing with all of his friends, and he didn't scream when he saw Santa, so that's a success." The organizers wanted to make sure no child felt left out. "There is a large part of our community that has kids with these sensory disorders, and not being able to participate in things like that - it's heartbreaking for a parent." Organizers estimate Santa saw more than 50 children. They plan to continue the event next year.