HAMILTON (Atlantic County) — As Santa displays at malls across New Jersey get more ostentatious each year the lights, music, and overall appearance can be an issue for children with sensory sensitivities.

At least two malls in the state are offering "Sensory Friendly Santa" experiences, including the Hamilton Mall in the Mays Landing section of Hamilton Township. Rachel Wheeler, marketing coordinator for Hamilton mall, said children will have the chance to reserve time with the man in the big red coat in the morning of the next two Sundays.

Wheeler said the mall will be opening its doors early, starting at 8:30 a.m. so families can make reservations for their children to meet Santa. She said the mall is opening early in order to better control sensory issues like lights and music for the children.

"We know that these sensory-friendly Santa events need to be very controlled environments," she said. "We're going to have a small team of people here so we can kind of make sure everybody is being involved as much as they want to."

In addition to having their pictures taken with Santa, children will be able take part in several other sensory-friendly activities if they want, Wheeler said. She said the goal is too make it as close to the activity that neurotypical children get — just more attuned to the individual needs of these kids.

"It's providing that same holiday tradition to the kids who would normally be shying away from all of the sensory activities," she said. "These families and our local community with special needs can get that holiday experience early, get their pictures taken and treasure it for the days leading up to Christmas."

Wheeler said the idea for the event came from a local grandmother who asked why the mall did not provide a sensory-friendly activity during the holidays. She said that while the mall staff was unaware that such activities took place, when they learned about it they were quick to put the event together.

So far she said there are 15 families signed up to take part in the event between the two dates, and with limited space Wheeler encouraged those interested to call the mall soon to reserve their spot.

"It's really fulfilling our role as a community venue that we're able to reach all the groups in the community," Wheeler said. "We're just thrilled that we as the Hamilton Mall can provide just one little piece of their Christmas season."

Those interested in signing up for the event should call the mall at 609-646-8326 and mention the Sensory Friendly Santa event. The Brunswick Square Mall is also offering a similar event on the morning of Dec. 3. Those interested in signing up for that event can reserve their spot online.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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