MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For many kids, going to see Santa is one of the most exciting parts of the holidays, but the experience can be scary for children with autism or sensory issues.

That’s why University of Minnesota Medical School researchers hosted a sensory-friendly Santa event on Saturday. More than two dozen people attended the event.

“We would not be at a regular mall,” said Kelly Kausel, of Apple Valley. “My son has a hard time with lines and he has a hard time with noise.”

Families were able to meet with Santa and take a family photo in an environment better suited for kids with autism.

“More quiet as a Santa waiting for the child to come up and investigate first and approach. Lighting – be thoughtful about lighting, be thoughtful about noise and space,” said Dr. Suma Jacob, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics.

Guests also had the chance to be part of the SPARK study, which is the nation’s largest autism genetics study.

The University of Minnesota is one of over 20 clinical sites across the country recruiting participants for the study. They are looking to enroll 50,000 individuals with autism and their families (both biological parents and one additional sibling) in the study nationwide.

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