12/17/2014 11:59 EST | Updated 02/16/2015 05:59 EST

'Sensitive Santa' welcomes children with autism

A visit to Santa Claus is cherished by many children, yet some find all that ho-ho-hoing a bit much.

It's a particular problem for kids on the autism spectrum who don't like loud sounds and bright lights.

Now a shopping mall in Swift Current, about 245 kilometres west of Regina, in partnership with Saskatchewan Families for Effective Autism Treatment, has come up with a solution: Sensitive Santa.

Arden Fiala, president of the organization, helped organize the Dec. 9 event. After the stores closed at the Swift Current Mall, the lights were dimmed, the music was turned off and in came a Santa who's a little on the quiet side.

He's also non-smoker, with fresh breath, who doesn't use after-shave, according to Fiala.

"Santa was really in tune to the needs of the children and very mindful that, just to tone down his voice and let the children take the lead," she said.

The event, which was also open to non-autistic children who prefer a quiet meeting with Santa, was a big success, she said. One child even got to take her time to warm up to Santa, a full 20 minutes. 

A Sensitive Santa event is already set for the mall next year, she said.

But Fiala also hopes the idea will spread across the province by next Christmas.