Every year, as million of parents bring their kids to take a picture with Santa Claus, many encounter a familiar, frustrating scenario: Their child refuses to sit on St. Nick’s lap, won’t look at the camera, or starts to cry. It’s a parenting rite of passage. For parents of children with autism, though, capturing the perfect holiday moment can be even more tricky.
Erin Deely assumed some experiences were just not possible for her son Brayden, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3. “I thought we would never get those holiday pictures with him because it’s something he can’t handle – the noise, and the pressure,” she told People. “He gets anxious if you ask him to smile, it’s all too much for him.”
But one mall Santa Claus went above and beyond — and out of his comfy chair — for the family on November 22. Deely had decided to give a holiday photo a try, bringing Brayden to an Autism Speaks and Noerr Programs Caring Santa event in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As Brayden shyly inched towards the chair, Santa decided not to wait to see if the boy would feel comfortable. Instead, he compassionately got down on the floor instead. They played with Brayden’s toys — and created a holiday memory his family will never forget.
“Oh my gosh, to be able to do something that other families do … normally a lot of things are harder for us as a family,” Deely added. “We got to do the same tradition as everyone else, we just do it on the floor.”
“The whole staff (Santa included) was overly accommodating for all of our kids, really trying to get the best picture and create the best experience possible, regardless of how much time or patience was needed to do so,” said Maeghan Pawley, a member of the organization’s Family Services team, who took the photo.
The Caring Santa program is private event at malls across the country where children with autism and other special needs can go early to meet Santa — in a sensory-friendly, controlled, and welcoming environment. More information is available on Autism Speaks.