Nova Scotia

'Silent Santa' helps kids with autism experience Christmas joy

For the third year Sunnyside Mall in Bedford, N.S., will run its Silent Santa program beginning Sunday, Nov. 20.

Children who struggle with lines and noise will have their own moment at Sunnyside Mall

Kathleen Edwards has taken part in Silent Santa for the past two years. (Submitted by Monica Edwards)

Christmas time is stressful for a lot of people, but to a child with anxiety or autism the loud noises, big crowds and long lineups can be especially overwhelming.

That's why for the third year, Sunnyside Mall in Bedford, N.S. is hosting its Silent Santa program. Starting Sundays on Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., families can book a time for their child to see the big man in red.

The room for Silent Santa is sparsely decorated and features a wide bench without an arm on one side so the children don't feel claustrophobic. (Steve Berry/CBC)

"We have them in a quieter area, low-level lighting. It's a little less intrusive to the children and to the families. They get to have a visit with Santa and they get all the same things you would get in a normal Santa shopping experience, but it's private," said Judith Thompson, general manager of Sunnyside Mall.

"We worked with Autism Nova Scotia and we had a bit of a training session and explained what would happen and just things he should do that might be a little bit different. Not quite as loud, Santa would be a little less 'ho ho ho'."

Judith Thompson is the general manager at Sunnyside Mall in Bedford, N.S. (Steve Berry/CBC)

The Silent Santa sessions are free and are booked by appointment only. The child gets to meet Santa and get a photo with him. Thompson said appointments for the 2016 season are filling up quickly.

"They love him. They really do. Some are shy, some are a little nervous so perhaps mom or dad will help bring them over to the Santa Claus but it's really a good experience. We've had no negative feedback at all since we started this," Thompson said.

'A wonderful place'

Monica Edwards has taken her daughter Kathleen, 7, to Silent Santa for the last two years.

"It's a wonderful place," said Edwards. "It's a good place for her because it's only us in the room with her and there's no one else — well, just Santa and the helpers."

Kathleen Edwards' parents are planning to take their daughter to Silent Santa for a third year. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Thompson said parents bringing their children to the mall for regular visits are helping different charities if they decide to buy a $5 photo with Santa. On Sundays, when he's in the main area of the mall, the money goes to support Autism Nova Scotia.

With files from Steve Berry