Autism affects millions of Americans, as well as even more across the world. Autism symptoms can vary and there is a wide range. However, the most common symptoms are social interaction difficulties, communication challenges, and a habit of engaging in repetitive behaviors. Such symptoms, as well as others, can often make normal, everyday events like going to see Santa at the mall a difficult challenge.
Autism Speaks is an organization dedicated to “funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism.” The organization hosts many events that cater to both autistic children and adults. Because people with Autism often experience difficulties in certain social settings and situations, they can’t always enjoy all the things that people who do not suffer from the disorder would.
For the past few years, Autism Speaks has organized an event aimed at giving people with Autism a chance to have some time with Santa at the local mall. And one young boy with Autism who visited Santa ended up having a great experience.
6-year-old Brayden suffers from Autism, which means that the crowds, lights, and noise of Christmas time in malls can sometimes be overwhelming for him. This left his parents wondering if he’d ever get to take a traditional picture with Santa. And that is where Autism Speaks stepped in.
Autism Speaks has been organizing an event called Caring Santa in malls across America. It’s an event held after all the shops have shut down and there is no more of the Christmas time hustle and bustle. This allows for people with autism to feel comfortable. Since people with Autism often have trouble interacting with new people, they’re allowed to take as much time as they need to warm up to it.
Erin Deely, Brayden’s mom said, “They let you take all the time you need to warm up to Santa, so Brayden started out far away. He knew who Santa was, but he was shy.”
After a few minutes of hesitation, Santa brought out a snow globe, setting it next to Brayden. Following another moment, Brayden scooted over to play with it. Instantly, Santa himself got down on the ground with him and began playing with toys with Brayden.
Autism Speaks executive, Lisa Goring, said the group tries to create a controlled environment in order to help the event be as stress-free as possible for everyone involved – both children and parents.
“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,” she said.
The organization, Caring Santa, has 120 locations. Many of the Santa’s that work for the organization are already working as mall Santas. They receive additional training through the program in order to better allow them to connect with people who have Autism.
Goring said, “It’s a great way for families to experience a holiday tradition.”
And Deely agrees. It only took 20 minutes with Santa before Brayden was thoroughly enjoying himself – he even gave Santa a high five!
What a great thing that this organization is doing! I can remember that as a kid at Christmas time, getting to meet Santa was always a season highlight. And it’s definitely something that every child should get to enjoy, so it is nice to see this organization doing something to help put the children with Autism at ease.
Watch the moving video below:
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.