Noblesville church tailors Christmas Eve service for special needs children and their families

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NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - Families in Noblesville made new memories on Christmas Eve this year. White River Christian Church in Noblesville held a "lights up, sound down" service, tailored for children with special needs and their families.

Many of those families typically can't make it through a whole church service because of the lights and the noise.

It's the first time the church has held a service specifically for children with autism. The planning started a few months ago.

"The idea just came to me that we should try to offer a service that catered to families that have an individual with a disability in the family," said Brooke Garcia, Special Needs Director at White River Christian Church.

The carols sung at the service were soft and low, with a simple acoustic melody. The room was also well-lit, not your typical candlelight service. That was all part of the plan.

"Make them feel comfortable," Garcia said, "When we think about, all of the things in their environment, not only sights and sounds but tastes, textures, smells, all of those can make it difficult for an individual with autism to focus on what is being presented to them."

Garcia said that's why the church created a welcoming atmosphere, ranging from gluten free cookies to "fidget" tables where parents could pick up toys like putty, stuffed animals, crayons, and even noise-cancelling headphones.

"I pray it's an annual thing, and I pray that other congregations see the need to have services that cater to families and individuals that have a disability," said Garcia.

Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released estimates that show one in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

"I actually get a little emotional about it because the fact that being a special education teacher and realizing that the prevalence rate is so incredibly high," said Michelle Foster.

Foster has been a special education teacher for 23 years, and she's a member of the church. She said seeing the service come to fruition is a blessing.

"We need to reach out to these families, because they are not able to participate in society like everyone else," said Foster.

Dawson Vicari is almost 12-years-old. He's autistic and does not say much, but he made it through the whole service, without having to leave.

"We haven't sat through one, I don't think, in his lifetime, other than when maybe he was a toddler or infant," said Kodi Vicari, Dawson's mother.

It's something his parents are thankful for this year, an open community at their church. The service made it a Christmas Eve to remember for their family, and many others.

"We felt at home, like Dawson didn't stand out in the crowd," said Vicari.

If you'd like information about the special needs program at White River Christian Church, click here.

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