LIMA — Max Capotosto hid under a table. The three-year-old apparently felt comfortable there. His parents tried to coax him out so he could get his picture taken with Santa Claus at the Lima Mall for Sunday’s Sensitive Santa event.
“Max has autism, so it’s better for him. When I took him to Easter to see the Easter Bunny, he didn’t do so well because of the lights and there was a lot more people here, so it’s good that they do this before the mall opens so that he can be himself and hide when he needs to hide,” said Skylar Capotosto, Max’s mother.
Eventually, Max made his way to Santa with his mom and they had their moment with Santa as he read them a story.
“Our Sensitive Santa is where we partner with Autism Speaks. It’s not just for autistic children, but it’s all children with special needs. It’s a more calm environment for the kids — low lighting, no music, no pulsing lights or anything, just a really good time for them to be able to work their way to visit Santa,” said Betsy Billingsley, marketing director Lima Mall.
This is the seventh year for the Sensitive Santa.
“This is really just an ongoing thing. We do it with the Easter Bunny and then the kids know what to expect each year,” she said.
The event attracts parents and children from a wide area.
“We get people from all over. We had a couple from Defiance with their kid. You know, it’s just the area itself and they know what they’re getting when they come. We have crafts and food and the kids are comfortable here,” said Billingsley.
Therapy dogs from the Welcome Waggers were also on hand to help calm the kids.
“Our role here is just to make the children feel calm and comfortable as they visit Santa,” said Ranea Spencer, volunteer coordinator for Welcome Waggers at Mercy Health.
The therapy dogs can be useful in helping people in the hospital also.
“We go into St. Rita’s … and we visit patients of all realms just to help them get through their day while they’re at the hospital or while they’re getting treatment and that just helps them to relax a little bit. These two dogs are registered with Pet Partners. We have to go through extensive training in order to do that,” said Spencer.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.