On November 20, 2016 at South Park Mall in Charolotte, N.C. Erin and Daniel Deely captured a special moment between their son Brayden and Santa Claus. Brayden is on the autism spectrum and for kids and adults with autism, malls can be overwhelming places.
For this reason, Autism Speaks partnered with the Noerr Programs Corporation
again this year on their Sensory-Friendly Santa programs! Caring Santa
(a partnership with SIMON Malls), Santa Cares
and Sensitive Santa
(a partnership with Washington Prime Group Malls) all provide families that have children with autism and other special needs with the opportunity to connect with Santa in a special way!
When Brayden attended a Caring Santa event in 2015, he did not want to sit on Santa's lap so Santa got on the floor with him. A photo of that moment went viral
and Brayden had so much fun he was excited to come back again this year. Once again, he did not want to sit on Santa's lap so Santa (the same Santa from the year before) came down on the floor to play with him. According to his mom, the floor is Brayden's "safe space."
Read our interview with Brayden's mom, Erin Deely below:
Q: How was it last year, having the photo of your son with Santa go viral?
A: Having Brayden's Santa picture go viral was surreal and amazing! So many parents reached out to me saying that they decided to give Caring Santa a try after hearing our story. Brayden has no clue that he was famous for a few days but he loved being on camera!
Q Was he excited to visit Santa again this year?
A: He was very excited! On the drive to the mall, he kept saying, " Go faster, Mommy! Get to the North Pole!" When Santa walked out he got very shy but had a huge grin on his face.
Q: How was your son's visit with Santa?
When it was Brayden's turn to go up, he got close to Santa then dropped to the floor. He had chosen two toys from Toy Story to bring this year. I got him to inch a little closer to Santa (who also got onto the floor once he recognized Brayden) then they started playing while we captured the whole thing on camera.
Whenever he's feeling shy but really excited, he lies face down on the floor and smiles. He often does this at school when he sees one of his favorite teachers in the morning. The floor seems to be a safe place for him to handle his excitement.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your son's autism and how it affects his daily life?
A: While Brayden's verbal skills have improved greatly, he still struggles with voicing his feelings at times. Eating has always been a challenge since he has Selective Eating Disorder. Meltdowns are practically non-existent these days. Certain noises upset him (dogs barking, honking horns, sirens, loud engines) but his teacher recently found him a pair of noise canceling headphones that he will tolerate. This has opened his world up a little more and he was even able to ride a school bus for the first time for a a field trip!
Earlier this year, Brayden changed schools in order to be in a self-contained (autism only) room. While this was certainly difficult, he has absolutely thrived in his new environment. He loves going to school! This has also helped him at home since he is happier and less stressed. Overall he is a laid back, happy kid who loves to run and make people laugh.