No day is easy for children and families affected by autistic spectrum disorder, but during the holiday season, some of the difficulties are even more prominent.

While jingling bells, festive music and the hustle and bustle of busy shopping malls is a common Christmastime experience for many kids, autistic children often find that atmosphere overwhelming and off-putting.

That’s why one Kitchener organization has put together a special program to allow those children their own personal experiences with Santa Claus.

Natalie Peruzzo’s four-year-old son Liam is autistic, and struggles with the sensory overload of traditional mall Christmases.

“To take him to the mall, it would just be very chaotic,” she says.

“He would just want to run loose, not stand in line. It would just be very stressful for his father and I.”

Enter Extend-a-Family Waterloo Region, which allows more than 50 local children to spend some time one-on-one with Santa.

“He can come here and relax. There’s a couch to sit on,” says Peruzzo.

“It makes my heart leap with joy, knowing he gets time with Santa. He recognizes who Santa is now, where last year he didn’t.”

This is the second year Extend-a-Family has run the program. Rochelle Barber, the organization’s community relations co-ordinator, says it’s open to children with a wide range of disabilities.

“They might have sensory issues, or behaviours, or medical fragility, things like that. They can’t venture out to the mall and meet Santa,” she says.

Even the jolly old elf minces no words when it comes to the benefits of the program.

“It makes Christmas so much more meaningful, knowing that you touch the hearts of other kids that you normally don’t get a chance to see,” Santa tells CTV.