With lights, trees and even Santa Clause, Christmas time can be overwhelming for children with special needs. For mother of two special needs children Janet English of Westlake, this time of year can be a challenge.
"Yes. Especially with the holidays because there's so many people out so it's a little bit more difficult getting them out more," said English.
English has 12 children, two of which require special needs. She brought them out to Prien Lake Mall where they hosted "Caring Santa," a special event dedicated to families that have children with special needs.
"We came out because it's less people," said English. "It's less crowds and they do better. It takes them a little longer to get things out but getting them out in the community and being a part of the community, it's a great thing being able to come and see Santa. They've been excited for days."
The mall took extra steps to reduce sensory triggers to create a more comforting experience for the children's visit with Santa. There was no music or heavy lighting and they provided special activities like coloring sheets to help the kids stay relaxed before taking pictures with Santa. Something English said her kids were definitely looking forward to.
"This morning they all woke up saying "Today! Today!" They were excited about being here," said English.
Janet says she keeps a routine and taking them to small, less-events like "Caring Santa" helps put them at ease. Other parents like English suggest creating visual schedules with pictures to help children understand routine changes during family visits. This is said to lower anxiety over being in a different place with different people.
English says though it may be tough, she has one Christmas wish for her children and other families like hers.
"Just wish them joy," said English. "Just knowing it's a time for family, for friends and for good times."
The "Caring Santa" program started in 2010 and has now become the most comprehensive offering of its type in the shopping center industry.