'Sensitive Santa' event helps Phoenix-area children with special needs

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

During the holidays, children with special needs may feel a little overwhelmed with all of the noise and crowds that come with meeting Santa. 

But there's one event that those children can celebrate the holidays in a much calmer environment. 

Colorful snowmen, toys, and crafts are just a few highlights of the "Sensitive Santa" event put on by Touchstone Health Services near 35th Avenue and Greenway Road

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"Anytime you can give a child a complete sense of normalcy in a world that is not normal, it's very psychologically beneficial for them to have," said Mary Ullman.

Ullman attended the event with her granddaughter. Ullman said that her granddaughter was so happy that she got to experience the magic of this time of year.

"I think a lot of children that are on the spectrum do unfortunately not have the same opportunities as children who are not on the spectrum have," she said.

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During the event, Arizona families got to take pictures with Santa Claus, dig into some arts and crafts and play holiday-themed games. 

Ashley Bennett with Touchstone Health Services said the event helps these children ring in the holidays in a comfortable setting, avoiding stressful things like crowds, loud noises, and bright lights. 

"What we do here is to minimize the number of environmental stimuli so our kids are able to see Santa and do activities play games and things like that," she said. 

After they meet Santa, the kids can pick out a toy.

"Watching the children go in and select a toy, seeing their eyes brighten and smiles jumping and so excited to pick out their very own toy warms my heart," said Bennett. 

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And it's not just the families that get excited.

"Seeing every family come in the door has made our staff teary-eyed and excited to celebrate with their families," said Bennett

Ullman told Arizona's Family that seeing her granddaughter light up has made this a successful Santa meet-and-greet.

"The children can relax and be among people who accept them," she said.

Organizers tell Arizona's Family that more than 200 families attended the event on Saturday.

Touchstone Health Services said they will start fundraising this January to get ready for next year's event. 

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