The sights and sounds of the holiday season can be overwhelming for children with autism, but now some kids on the spectrum are getting a Christmas experience tailored to their specific needs.
Sara Callighy had a one-of a kind meeting with Santa.
The 8-year-old has autism and is non-verbal. Her father, Brian Callighy, brought her to this event because this Santa understands the challenges of autism firsthand. "Santa also has autism. It's a special connection, special bond," Callighy said.
Santa is 28 year-old Kerry Magro. Diagnosed at four, his sensory challenges prevented him from visiting Santa as a kid. He created this event so others like him don't miss out. "The large lines, the crowds, the loud noise, everything about that would send me into overload," Magro said. "This event is more inclusive. We dim the lights, we turn down the sound and try to help them as much as we can."
"He's just so aware of what Sara might be going through, and what we as parents might be going through as well," Callighy said. "He just does a great job. He takes his time -- there's no rush."
Most of the elves, and Mrs. Claus, are occupational therapists and special education teachers. The team visited with 181 special needs families, including four-year old Rusty Marsh.
With one in 68 children diagnosed with autism, Magro hopes to inspire more sensory-friendly events all year round. "Autism doesn't stop in December. It doesn't stop at Christmas," He said. "I want everyone to be happy -- that's the greatest Christmas gift of all.