‘Sensory-friendly' Easter bunny photo opportunity for children with autism at Deptford Mall

Preschoolers in New Jersey have the highest rate of autism ever measured in the United States, according to a new study.

Some local parents say that has helped with awareness, especially when something which seems simple, taking pictures with the Easter Bunny for example, can be complicated.

It was the calm before the Sunday before Easter storm at the Deptford Mall.

Their doors opened early, ahead of retail hours, so children with autism could take pictures with the Easter bunny in a "sensory-friendly" environment.

"When Damon was three, coming in here, walking past Spencer's, it was so loud he would drop to his knees and scream," says Christina Dallas, mom to a child with autism. "I love it because he gets to experience more stuff that he didn't when he was younger."

Hosted by Centria Autism, a leading national provider of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism and their families, the sensor-friendly Easter Bunny also understands that some children need extra patience and quiet time when they visit.

He avoids loud noises, sudden movements and asks direct questions rather than open-ended questions.

"She typically will get scared, she could have a meltdown, it's hard to get her out in public when everything is sensory overloaded, so this is a perfect way to get her in without all that extra chaos," says Jamie Down, who has a daughter on the spectrum.

Centria Autism also set up a booth to provide parents with education about their therapy.

According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control on Thursday, one in 35 children in New Jersey was diagnosed with autism by their 4th birthday. They now have the highest rates of autism ever measured in the United States.

"They are beautiful children and it's a great situation when you can provide this for them," says Allen Willis, Outreach Specialist for New Jersey for Centria Autism. "There's definitely a need in New Jersey."