This guest blog is by Autism Speaks Staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry is an award winning national speaker who is on the autism spectrum.
I remember the first time I ever saw Santa. It was during the holiday season when my parents had taken me out to do some Christmas shopping at our local mall. I was a five-year-old, just newly diagnosed and I was completely terrified. I remember the loud music, the crowded lines and the overload I was feeling. I can still remember what upset me most. We left before I could meet Santa. I had no picture with Santa because I was completely overwhelmed and we had to leave.
Today I’m hoping to give children with autism the opportunity to do something I didn’t have the chance to do as a kid.
That’s why I decided to start an Autism-Friendly Day for our community as part of a four day Santa Elf Factory event in New Jersey to give children with autism the chance to meet Santa in a sensory-friendly environment. I got the idea when I was 18 and we did a toy drive for some inner city youth in Paterson. Some of these individuals had special needs and I took on the part of Santa Claus for the day. Seeing the kid’s reactions was something that truly has left a lasting impact on me to this day. One of the best memories I had was when a four-year-old girl named Tiffany came up to me and said “I Love you Santa” and gave me a hug. I had to fight back tears as I gave her a Bob the Builder bulldozer. This was one of the cutest and most special moments of in my life.
A year later I had started college and my road to becoming an autism advocate. During college was one of the first times I ever told anyone that I was on the autism spectrum. Now at the age of 26 I’m using my work in the field to yet again take on the role of Santa; now for these children with autism. The response from our community since we announced the event has blown me away. Several parents have contacted me via Facebook saying how this will be the first time their child ever gets to meet Santa.
THIS is what it’s all about. So many children with autism have to work day and night to get through school, early intervention, therapies, you name it. During this holiday season these kids deserve the opportunity to have some time to enjoy themselves in a safe and nurtured environment. If I can give even one of these kids and their families the feeling of joy and happiness the event will have been well worth the time we’ve been putting into it.
While we hope to give back during this holiday season to make an impact for these kids we are also hoping this will start an even bigger conversation on getting autism-friendly Santa events for families who want them across the country. Autism Speaks is helping out with this now through their partnership with Simon Malls where 120 of their malls will be participating in autism-friendly events for our community.
I hope for those reading this that you will share this blog with your communities, local media outlets, newspapers, websites, social media etc. as we spread awareness for autism-friendly holiday events that can make a lasting impact in the lives of countless children.
When I was diagnosed, the numbers of autism were 1 in 1000. Today it’s 1 in 68 with 3 million individuals having autism in the U.S and 70 million worldwide.
Let’s spread some cheer for our community this season so we can make autism a part of that conversation for all our families and giving them a very very special holiday season.
Now it’s time to stock up on milk and cookies to prepare for the big day! Happy Holidays! :)
Kerry is hosting an Autism-Friendly Day @ Santa’s Elf Factory sponsored by JC Funraisers LLC being held at Tommy 2 Scoops 177 York St Jersey City, New Jersey on Saturday, December 13th from 10 AM to 5 PM for 70 autism families. Spots are going fast so reserve your spot TODAY here. A portion of the proceeds from this event will help provide scholarships for adults with autism to attend college.