FOR any youngster at this time of year, a trip to Santa’s grotto is magical.

But for three-year-old Emilie-Faye Borrowdale, her outing to Santa’s Post Office, in Blackburn Mall, was quite unique.

The smiling youngster, from Nelson, has non-verbal autism, and a visit to a bustling grotto might prove overwhelming for her.

Father Christmas and his Blackburn elves though have been learning makaton, a sign language, to make the experience as warm and friendly as can be.

Mum Liz said: “This is absolutely fantastic for someone like Emilie-Faye.

“She can’t really deal with crowds and she really appreciated the one-on-one time with Father Christmas.”

Liz and partner Richard had been struggling to find somewhere that could accommodate their daughter and issued an appeal on social media.

One of her former neighbours, Paula Holden, stepped in and suggested Santa’s Post Office, after working with Imagination Entertainment, Blackburn Mall’s grotto partners for the past few years.

Liz added: “We’re really grateful to Paula for sorting this out for us and if we can raise awareness of the fact that there are these special sessions then that would be great.

“This is the time of year when all young children should be celebrating Christmas and this has been great for us.”

Emilie-Faye was able to tour the grotto with big brother Ollie, aged eight, who has been busy learning a host of seasonal makaton signs for the occasion, from Father Christmas, to elves and reindeer.

“Ollie and I have been learning at least two new makaton signs a day and he’s been really great,” added Liz.

Danielle Corson, who helps to run the grotto, said: “This is something which we’ve done here for three years but this is the first time we’ve offered these makaton sessions.

“We’ve learned all of the basic Christmas signs and some of the names of popular toys, with the help of an expert from the council.”