FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Santa showed up a little early for some special kids in Southwest Florida, and it's something these families won't forget.
You could feel the excitement building at Edison Mall on Sunday as the kids waited to see Mr. Claus, sit on his lap, and share their wishes for Christmas.
But this event had a different feel. It was all part of the Sensitive Santa experience, which gives children with autism and special needs a chance to meet Santa in a sensory-friendly environment.
Moms like Angela Rosenberg appreciate opportunities like this, because it's an experience that some may take for granted. "It's kind of a new and intimidating experience, and when it's a little a more calm and relaxed, he had the freedom to run around and be himself. We love those opportunities."
Rosenberg's son Emery has Down syndrome and sensory processing disorder, which sometimes means standing in long lines can be difficult, between the lights, music, and crowds. "This gives them the opportunity and access everyone else gets, with a little bit easier, calm experience for them."
Olga Torres says the sensitive Santa experience has changed her holiday season for the better. "There's not many events like this, inviting kids with special needs and people need to understand that this is even good for us parents, knowing that our kids are included, not discriminated."
Torres hopes opportunities like this catch the attention of those who may have misconceptions about those with special needs. But most importantly "to promote awareness. I don't think there's enough awareness."
This year's Sensitive Santa event was completely free thanks to an anonymous donor. They say they just want to spread some holiday cheer.