For Children with Autism, a Quiet and Intimate Meeting with SantaDec. 12, 201601:39
For millions of American families, a family photo with Santa is a rite of passage every holiday season.
But for Anna Bourdon, the tradition was filled with anxiety.
Bourdon's son, Aiden, is autistic and she says the music, lights and crowds can be too much stimulation for him.
"Trying to find a place that could actually deal with him, him having autism is difficult," Bourdon told NBC News.
Related: Mall of America Hires First Black Mall Santa for Holiday Season
This year, however, Aiden will be enjoying it all at his own pace.
Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, has partnered with malls across the country this year to offer special "sensory friendly" visits for children like Aiden in the early morning hours before stores open their doors.
"We might not be able to participate in a regular Santa Claus picture, so coming early in the morning before the hectic Christmas season, it's nice," said Bourdon.
And Santa has special training to deal with the children, no booming ho-ho-ho's allowed.
Related: Terminally Ill 5-Year-Old Boy Dies in Santa's Arms
"You can't do anything harsh or loud," said one Santa at a New York mall. "You wait until they respond to you."
A video of one Santa on the floor with an autistic child went viral online last week.
For children like Aiden, said Bourdon, the Autism Speaks initiative has provided them with the experience millions of American children long for every year: meeting Santa.