Autism affects millions of people through the United States, and even more world-wide. The symptoms of Autism can be wide and varied. The most common though, are social interaction difficulties, communication challenges, and a habit of engaging in repetitive behaviors. These and other symptoms can make even a normal, everyday event such as visiting Santa at the mall a real challenge. Autism Speaks is an organization that is dedicated to “funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism.” They put on many events that cater to autistic children and adults. Because of people with Autism’s difficulties in certain social settings and situations, they are not able to enjoy all the things that people who do not suffer from the disorder do. For the past couple years, Autism Speaks has organized an event to give people with Autism some quality time with Santa at their local mall. This is the story of one Autistic boy who visits Santa and has the best experience ever.
This little boy is 6-year-old Brayden. Suffering from Autism, the crowds, lights and noise of the mall during Christmas time can be a bit much for him to handle. This made his parents wonder if they would ever be able to get a traditional picture of him with Santa. That’s where Autism Speaks comes in.
For the past couple years Autism Speaks has organized an event called Caring Santa in malls across the U.S. It is held after all the shops are closed and the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping is done for the day. This allows for the people with Autism to feel comfortable in the setting. Because people with Autism can have difficulty interacting with new people, the warm up time for them to actually meet Santa is as much as they need. Brayden’s mom Erin Deely 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 Brayden being hesitant, Santa brought out a snow globe and set it next to Brayden. After a minute, Brayden crawled over to play with it. Without missing a beat, Santa got right on the floor with him and started playing with toys with Brayden.
Autism Speaks executive Lisa Goring said that the group tries to create a controlled environment. This helps the whole event be as stress free for everyone involved, children and parents, as possible. “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 mall Santa’s to begin with. They receive additional training through the program. It allows them to better connect with people with Autism. Goring said, “It’s a great way for families to experience a holiday tradition,” and Deely agreed. It only took 20 minutes with Santa before Brayden was all too happy to have him spending time with him. He even gave the big guy a high-five!
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This is such an amazing thing for this organization to do. When this Autistic boy visits Santa, it isn’t just a normal trip to the mall. It can be quite an ordeal for the children and parents alike. This organization takes away all that pressure that parents may feel when taking their children into a crowded mall to try to experience a little bit of Christmas tradition.