Being Santa Claus at the local mall can be a challenging job. Santa has to deal with dozens of kids every day and even more stressed out and frustrated parents. Sometimes families need to wait as long as an hour to get the photo with Santa Claus. And because it all happens during the holiday season, when emotions run high, people can be at their wit’s end.
But one Santa went above and beyond to make Erin Deely’s son feel comfortable with the experience. Her son, Brayden, has autism. That means the lights and lines can be hard for him to handle. And because of his condition, Erin and her husband never thought he would be able to get a photo with Santa Claus.
But mall Santa made it possible when he went the extra mile.
“They let you take all the time you need to let him warm up to Santa, so Brayden started out far away,” Deely told TODAY. “He knew who Santa was, but he was shy.”
Santa took his time. And a few moments later, he removed his musical snow globe and allowed Brayden to play with it. The boy loved it and started crawling on his tummy toward the toy.
Then Santa did something spectacular. He got right down on the ground and crawled along on his great big belly.
“He got down on his stomach and just started playing with him,” Deely said. “They didn’t even talk to each other, really, they just bonded and played, and Brayden started to be really excited and started looking at him and smiling.”
The executive vice president of Autism Speaks, Lisa Goring was very impressed with this mall Santa. She runs programs and services and admits that Caring Santa program is one of the best ones that she offers. This provides a calm and stress-free environment for children with autism to meet Santa and have a wonderful experience.
“We know for some kids with autism, the idea of going into a mall and an environment they’re not used to has a lot of sensory challenges,” Goring said.
Children with autism do not always respond well to flashing lights, long lines, loud noises, or physical touch – especially from strangers. So you can see how difficult it would be for a child with autism to wait in line just to sit on Santa’s lap.
The Caring Santa program has spread to malls in more than 120 cities across the country. That’s progress for families who have children with autism. Many of their Santas already do the job, but they have gone through extra training to better serve children who do have autism.
“It’s a great way for families to experience a holiday tradition,” Goring said.
And for parents like Deely, it makes a world of difference.
“This was our only way. We wouldn’t get traditional Santa pictures otherwise. For years we didn’t because it was too much for Brayden,” she said.
What do you think about this Santa program designed to give autistic children a chance?