I don’t even bother trying to get my son to sit down for a Santa photo anymore.
Not all kids like it, as we can tell from the countless Christmas photos featuring hysterical children trying to get off the lap of their local shopping centre Santa. As all mums of special needs children know, that hysteria isn’t worth the funny photo, because its not so easy to calm them down afterwards, not to mention the long term effects in terms of anxiety surrounding similarly confronting experiences.
I gave up a few years ago. It just wasn’t worth it.
Then I spotted a photo of a shopping centre Santa lying on the floor next to a boy. The Santa was carefully getting down on the little boy’s level, playing next to him, not pressuring him into doing anything and the boy was slowly but surely warming up and inching closer.
Tears sprang into my eyes because, without even reading a word, I immediately knew what was happening.
The little boy’s name is Brayden Deely. He’s just six and he has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Mum Erin Deely wouldn’t normally consider taking Brayden to see Santa but she heard of a local Caring Santa event being hosted by Autism Speaks at North Carolina’s South Park shopping mall in the U.S.
Autism Speaks told ABC News that the aim of Caring Santa was to give families of children with autism and other special needs a more “controlled and welcoming environment.”
Erin says Brayden normally misses out on meeting Santa. “Typically we probably wouldn’t have even made it up to Santa. Between the chaos of the mall, the long lines and the pressure of having to go right up to a strange man so you can sit on his lap and smile for the camera would have sent him over the edge! He would be fighting to get out of there the whole time!”
Even though Brayden wanted to meet Santa, he was reluctant and Santa needed to take careful steps when approaching him.
“Brayden immediately recognised Santa and got a shy smile on his face,” Erin says. “He stood nearby and checked out some of the present props they had. We didn’t put any pressure on him to go up to Santa at all and the staff patiently waited. Normally he would be anxious for a big moment but we took it very slow.”
Erin said she wasn’t expecting to get any photos at all, and it wouldn’t have bothered her in the slightest. It was all about helping Brayden to experience Santa just like other kids. The photos she ended up with though, are beyond special.
Autistic kids are right there in front of us all. They just need a more considered approach to make them light up with the joy that comes naturally for other children their age.
Most of the credit goes to Santa, whose careful choices made Brayden’s day. Erin says it took just a few minutes and a musical snow globe for Santa to make contact.