'Sensory Santa' allows children with special needs to meet Santa in controlled environment

    Children with special needs met Santa at the Oglethorpe Mall on Sunday. (Katie Filling/ WTGS)<p>{/p}

    The Oglethorpe Mall let families with children with special needs come inside early on Sunday to meet Santa.

    The event was called 'Sensory Santa' and controlled the environment for children who are sensory sensitive.

    The mall wasn't open yet so it was quiet, they dimmed the lights, and turned the music down so the children wouldn't be overwhelmed.

    Sean Hussey has Down's syndrome. His dad said he just wants to enjoy Christmas like other kids.

    “There’s not so much music, noise, hustle bustle, so kids with different abilities can come and enjoy Santa like everybody else,” said Brian Hussey, Sean's father.

    Will McGowan has autism. His dad said the small changes go a long way.

    “Too much stimuli and they get intimidated, they get afraid even and that becomes such a negative experience for them they never want to do it again,” said Wayne McGowan, Will's father.

    But the quiet mall was filled with smiles and laughs from these kids on Sunday. Parents said it allows their families to forget the stress of a disability.

    “They happen to have Down's syndrome or autism, or some other diagnosis, but the reality is they are children first,” said Hussey.

    And while the holiday season can be difficult for them with all the commotion, they say there are so many positives to their unique situations.

    McGowan said, “It re-instills with you a great sense of joy. He finds such delight in so many little things and it reminds you of those things.”

    The families said the event was successful for their families.

    Savannah Mall is hosting an event just like this one next Saturday, Dec. 15 from 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

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