Some families with children on the Autism spectrum say their holidays depend on it.
"Some parents will do different fundraisers and things like that themselves, but there's not a lot. My Hannah can't be involved with a lot of things, so the Santa is special," says Marcy Hardinger, Founder of the Cumberland Tri-State Autism Walk.
But this season the mall changed the time for Compassionate Santa to a week day. When a local mother posted she was upset on FaceBook, she was answered by an outraged community, thinking her child was denied from seeing Santa.
"My child was never turned away from the Mall. We did not have a bad experience at the mall. If anything, the past three years my child's had a wonderful experience here with the Compassionate Santa," says Selena Mawhinney, a mother of a child with Autism. "We were just wanting it to carry on again this year. My only complaint was that they had moved it to a time where my child was in school, which I didn't really think was quite fair."
The Mall says there was never a sign or policy stating that kids with special needs could not see Santa during normal hours.
"The good thing is that children are welcome to see Santa any time he is on the set. What we're trying to do is offer options for people, and we've gotten responses in the past," says Bryon Wall, General Manager of the Country Club Mall.
The Compassionate Santa takes place before the Mall opens because of much smaller crowds with dim lights and low music, to help make a better environment for kids with special needs.
"A lot of times when Santa is with a bigger group of kids, or a bigger group of adults, there's just too much stimulation for our kids and they're not able to handle it," says Mawhinney. "It just makes a terrible experience for the parent and for the child and kind of gets in the way of the excitement of Christmas, and takes that away from the parents."
Families say there's not a lot of social outlets for kids with Autism in the area, so they're looking forward to taking pictures with the Compassionate Santa a fourth year in a row.
In response to complaints, the Country Club Mall changed the Compassionate Santa hours to Sunday's from 10 a.m. until noon, beginning this week for the next three Sunday's.