Special- needs kids can get photos with the Caring Bunny _lowres

Photo provided by Noerr Programs

The Easter Bunny is the stuff of iconic childhood photo ops. For parents, pictures of kids and the big rabbit are a rite of passage, a hop, skip and a jump that connect them to generations of tradition.

The Caring Bunny, coming to Esplanade Mall on Sunday morning, spreads the festive tradition to children with special needs who previously couldn’t take part.

Created by Simon Properties, which owns The Esplanade and other malls across the country, in cooperation with Autism Speaks and AbilityPath.org, The Caring Bunny program is 3 years old.

“When it pioneered, The Esplanade was one of the malls chosen to participate,” said Nikki Buxton, Esplanade’s director of marketing and business development.

While the event has been mainly publicized through local support groups such as Autism Speaks and Families Helping Families, those who wish to bring a child to the event can still phone the mall at (504) 468-6116 to set up a reservation.

Here’s how it works:

The mall doors open early, and from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., the special Easter crew is set up for photos.

Sensory triggers will be reduced, creating a more comforting environment. That may include turning off in-mall music, stopping escalators near the photo set, dimming the lights and shutting down fountains.

A system of calling up families by number will eliminate standing in lines.

Special activities during the waiting period will help the child understand what will occur during the visit with the rabbit.

“Parents let us know what we need to do to adjust for the kids to have a nice, fun visit with bunny,” Buxton said.

“I have very close friend, and her little boy has special needs. When this event started, he had never taken a photo with the Easter Bunny or Santa because it was too much for him. Now he comes to our event,” she continued. “It’s emotional. The parents didn’t have the opportunity to have that.”

The Caring Bunny might also be good for children with physical handicaps who need more time, or for those with anxiety about crowds.

For those without special needs, the Easter Bunny will be available for photos during regular mall hours through March 26.