Mall offers children with Autism calm atmosphere to visit Santa -

Mall offers children with Autism calm atmosphere to visit Santa

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Penny Madsen reached for a tissue Sunday morning in a relatively quiet Lynnhaven Mall.

Madsen watched as her children, Cailyn and Cylus, hopped up on Santa Claus' chair.

"He's such a great kid," Madsen said of Cylus, "but he has such an aversion to other people, strangers usually.  It's really difficult to get him to really warm up to people, so when he just jumped on his seat with Santa, it really tore me up."

Cylus has Autism, and Sunday, the mall offered the Autism Society of Tidewater a chance to avoid all the noise and distractions that come when visiting Santa at any mall. Children with Autism had a chance to visit with him before the mall opened.

"When we go to another place there is too much going on and even with the portrait studios, moving picture stuff around, he doesn't want to do it," explained Juanita Williams, whose grandson, Jaylan, has Autism.

Janeice Woodson is his mother.

"Any picture we can get with a smile or with him not crying or spazzing, it's a good day," Woodson told 13News Now.

The Autism Society of Tidewater serves 1,500 families, working as an advocate for them.

"The prevelence is growing so much that families are having a rough time finding services, qualifying for services and affording services and therapies for their kids," said AST President Vania O'Keefe.

25 families visited the mall for the quiet visit with Santa Claus. 25 will be there next weekend. Another 20 families are on a waiting list.

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