Williamsville, NY (WBEN) - While taking the kids to see Santa may be difficult for some, for families of children with autism, it's often impossible.
For that reason, Eastern Hills Mall teamed up with some local parents to create Patient Santa, where before the mall opened on Sunday, lights were dimmed, music was turned off, and families of children with autism didn't have to wait in line for a picture with the Big Guy.
Eastern Hills Mall General Manager Russ Fulton said that it was something Western New York families needed. "We had so many wonderful comments, some saying that they had tried to take their children to see Santa at area locations and they were asked to leave by security because the child was acting up or getting a little too loud. That was our purpose here, to create that atmosphere that even if there was a little rambunctious behavior there were things going on."
Fulton said that the response to Patient Santa was overwhelming. "Talking to very large malls in very large cities, we had heard they had two children, and three children. At a meeting a few weeks ago, Patient Santa (organizers) had asked 'what if there's only one or two kids, what do we do then?' As it turned out, we had to shut it (registration) down at 77 kids."
While the mall could only accommodate 77 families this year, Fulton sees Patient Santa as an idea that may expand when Mr. Claus comes to town next year.