Sensitive Santa meets with dozens of autistic children at Eastwood Mall

Sensitive Santa meets with dozens of autistic children at Eastwood Mall



Visits to Santa at the mall tend to be noisy affairs with flashing lights, loud music, boisterous “ho-ho-hos” and a number of attention-getting distractions.

Sunday morning at the Eastwood Mall was different.

There was no music, no lights except those on the main concourse Christmas tree, minimal noise and a gentle, soft-spoken Santa—just what was needed to make these children comfortable because they are autistic.

“All the lights and sounds can be intimidating and disturbing to them, which is why we wanted to make this setting calm and peaceful,” said Aundrea Cika, director of the Mahoning Valley office of the Autism Society of Ohio. Cika said the society and the mall set up the special Santa visit for early Sunday morning before most of the stores opened to keep distractions at a minimum.

Cika said parents registered 56 children for the visit, the first of its type for the society. The registration form asked the parents to list three items for their children’s Christmas list so Santa could talk about them as they sat on his lap.

“This type of environment allows them to participate in holiday activities on their own terms,” said Vera Ceglarek, West Farmington, whose 12-year old son, Elliot, is autistic but has some communication capabilities.

Read the full story with photos Monday in The Vindicator and on

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