Around Christmas time, most kids can’t wait for their chance to meet the star of the season. 

14-year old Jack Nygaard is no different. 

“So that way if you want to get Christmas presents, you have to ask him, which he’s right over there, what you want to get for Christmas so that way you don’t forget what to do,” said Jack. 

But, that trip to see Santa can be more difficult for some families like Nygaards, with children on the Autism spectrum. 

“Some parents came to me and they said they really wanted to take their child to see Santa but the child couldn’t handle all the extraneous things, the noise, the crowds, the waiting in line,” said Dr. Maureen Barber-Carey, the Executive Director at the Barber National Institute.

That’s why ten years ago the Barber National Institute launched a sensory Santa event.

Families with special needs children visit with Santa before the mall opens.

There’s no music, the lights are low, and there’s a number system so no one has to wait in line. 

“This event allows anybody with a developmental disability who still wants to participate in the Christmas spirit and get to see Santa that opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” said John Nygaard, Jack’s father. 

Organizers say the response makes all the difference. 

“I have families who say this is a tradition for their family or we would never be able to have our children see Santa so it’s our way at the Institute to give back to the Erie community,” said Dr. Barber-Carey. 

Because of dedicated volunteers and families, every child gets to experience the magic of the holiday season. 

This event accommodates children with a wide variety of disabilities. 

Next Saturday the institute is hosting its Christmas ball, A  Very Merry Erie, at the Bayfront Convention Center.