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Dayton Mall to host annual Sensitive Santa program this Sunday

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MIAMI TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - This Sunday, the Dayton Mall will hold its 10th annual Sensitive Santa program. It allows children with autism to visit Santa Claus without the bright lights, loud music, long lines, and crowds.

The program was created in 2007 when parents from the Dayton Autism Society voiced their concern to mall associates about not being able to take their children to see Santa.

“We didn’t have any idea what to expect,” marketing director of Dayton Mall Dave Casper said. “We didn’t know if anybody was going to show up.”

The Dayton Mall opened its doors early that day just for these children, and about 35 families came. Many any of them have come to every single Sensitive Santa program since.

Santa Daryl, who has played Santa Claus since the beginning, said some kids remember him each year.

“They’re not scared, they’re not interrupted by other people and it’s just really good for the kids,” he said.

Each child’s experience is entirely personalized, and even though many children are nonverbal, Santa Claus is still able to communicate with them.

“I talk to them in a nice, quiet, easy tone,” Santa Daryl said. “I don’t try to overreact to them. And they enjoy it very much.”

The program has since expanded to malls across the country, and eventually, around the world.

“Our employees look forward to this all year long,” Casper said. “It’s our favorite event of the season, and they become our friends. We know these folks very well.”

The program will be held Sunday, December 3 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. in Santa’s Village at the Dayton Mall.

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