Caring Santa Visits Families with Special Needs at Summit Mall



It’s early Sunday morning, and the holiday rush that typically fills Summit Mall on the weekends is hours away from arriving. Security guards are the only ones chatting in the food court. The entrance to Dillard’s is locked by steel gates, and the entire mall is very quiet. Enter the Autism Society of Greater Akron’s Caring Santa.

Laurie Cramer, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron said, “2018 marks the seventh year of a partnership between Summit Mall and the Autism Society of Greater Akron (ASGA) to host “Caring Santa.” Since its inception, the inclusive Caring Santa event has brought holiday cheer to over 500 families that have a child with special needs in the Greater Akron area. We’re very proud and appreciative of this partnership that opens up holiday cheer for all.”

Families were given two opportunities to meet Caring Santa this year; on the morning of Sunday, November 18th, and on the morning of Sunday, December 2nd. The event itself is free to attend, though professional photos with Santa are provided by the mall for a fee.

“One mom told me this was her third year in a row attending, and that her son would not be able to visit Santa if it wasn’t for this event,” said Lisa Thompson, Director of Programs at the Autism Society of Greater Akron. “That’s how we know we’re getting it right and that inclusive events like this are making the difference we intended!”

The Autism Society of Greater Akron works with the mall to provide an accommodating experience that takes into account some of the challenges of autism, including shorter lines to reduce waiting and crafts and activities to keep everyone busy until it’s their turn. In addition, families are welcomed in before mall opening, when the music is low and the lights are dim at the request of ASGA. They are then greeted with snacks, games and crafts, provided and managed by ASGA employees and volunteers.

Finally, the children get to meet with Santa; who has done this event for seven straight years and is experienced around children with special needs. Ultimately, the true gift is an opportunity to enjoy the same holiday traditions all children enjoy. Children with special needs, especially those with autism, can have a difficult time handling the sensory overload that comes with the hustle and bustle of a shopping mall.

“We’re very grateful to our volunteers; we truly could not do this event without them,” added Lisa Thompson. “We also thank Summit Mall once again being an awesome partner for this event, and to our Santa who is so patient and understanding!”

Additional photos from the event are available on the Autism Society of Greater Akron’s Flickr page at