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These 6+ Malls Have Pictures with Santa Now Autism-Friendly in North America

Picture with Santa

Here are "autism-friendly" places to have your child's picture taken with Santa.


Canada and the United States seem to have teamed up to provide children diagnosed with autism a safe and happy space to meet with Santa Clause, take pictures and tell their top wishes. The jolly old fellow is known around the world as the bringer of gifts and North Americans no less enjoy his bounty every year. With his snow-white bears and rather enormous belly, he fits down chimneys and drives a sleigh pulled by reindeer, guided by a little one with a big red nose.

Every year, children from all over the continent go to big, bustling malls to meet Santa and take pictures to last a lifetime in memories. They sit on a red-clad knee, smile brightly or warily, and either whisper or declare out loud exactly what they would like him to bring them Christmas Eve. It is a grand moment for child and parent alike, but one that is denied to children with sensory overload problems, particularly the autistic. Between the congested crowds, bright lights, loud music and chatter, I feel sorry for any child who has to endure such an environment for a simple picture with St. Nicholas. The news that Canadian and US malls are accommodating for children with autism makes me happy overall!

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Whereas the US statistics show that 1 in every 88 children will be diagnosed with autism, in Canada the numbers are much less with 1 in 165. Children on the spectrum can be diagnosed with either classical autism, Asperger's Syndrome, or Rhett's Syndrome. Some might get their senses all mixed up, while others have unexplained phobias or speech impediments. Social awkwardness is key in this disorder and day-to-day life should include much in terms of movement or repetition. Stability makes it easier for autistic children to function in society.

Canadian malls are starting earlier in the day, providing dim lighting, no crowds and low music. 10 Canadian malls offering this service include:

  • Toronto's Scarborough Town Center: Toronto joins in the fun with autistic children given the safe space needed to happily embrace a tradition many children take for granted.
  • Calgary's Southcentre Mall: A CTV newspaper article mentions that photos are by appointment only to avoid lineups and are on Sundays before the mall opens. To reserve a photo time slot, please contact Krista at Southcentre, 403-225-5348.
  • Mississauga's Square One Mall: What safer environment to give an autistic child as a 15-minute private meeting with Santa Clause. 9 families had the pleasure of experiencing a private date with the jolly man in red.

US malls are either starting earlier or dedicating spaces that are least crowded, dimming lights and reducing noise. Santas are not hollering out their "Ho Ho Ho"s and an ambiance of calm reigns over these areas. US Malls providing these services include:

  • South Portland's Maine Mall: Caring Santa will be there every Sunday, with the final session 8:30 to 9:45 a.m. on December 1.
  • Raleigh's Crabtree Valley Mall: A single event that began 2 hours before opening, Raleigh's children had pictures coupled with coloring, craft making, Lego stations, and letter writing to Santa. Spare Some for Autism was the one in charge, to be reached at (919) 844-1960 or www.sparesomeforautism.org.
  • Virginia Beach's Lynnhaven Mall: 25 families have already visited Santa last week, 25 will be this weekend and another 20 are on the waiting list. The Autism Society of Tidewater organized these safe and fun picture outings.