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Oak Park Mall opens early so kids with special needs can meet Santa

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Taking a picture with Santa is a holiday tradition for many families. A new program at Oak Park Mall wants to make it easier for all families to feel included, especially families of children with autism.

Susan Grace is the mother of two boys on the autism spectrum. She said for years they could not take pictures with Santa.

“When there is a lot more people, they get a lot more nervous. My older son likes to pace when he gets nervous and you can’t really do that in a very long line,” said Grace.

This year, Autism Speaks partnered with Oak Park Mall to make several changes to this classic holiday tradition. The mall opened several hours early to avoid the crowds and parents were asked to register in advance to avoid long lines.

“We were able to pick a time, come down, and they had stuff for them to do while they were waiting. But we were waiting less than five minutes probably,” said Grace.

The event sold out quickly with forty families signing up to take pictures with Santa. Oak Park Mall said they want to make this an annual tradition.