Every child loves Santa Claus – in theory. Put them face to face with the jolly old guy and it’s often a different story. Many kids enter the line at the mall ready to meet Santa full of excitement and anticipation, only to leave in tears of fear or simply being overwhelmed.
After her son’s Autism diagnosis at the age of 3, Erin Deeley didn’t think she’d ever get another picture of her son with Santa, telling PEOPLE that “I thought we would never get those holiday pictures with him because it’s something he can’t handle – the noise, and the pressure. He gets anxious if you ask him to smile, it’s all too much for him.”
Erin then heard about the Caring Santa Program that the group Autism Speaks hosts at malls around the country, where families can meet with Santa is a more calm, quiet and controlled environment.
Erin brought her son Brayden to her local mall in Charlotte, North Carolina and got the surprise of her life when the mall Santa went above and beyond to ensure that Brayden would get his picture with Santa. Sensing that Brayden was a bit anxious and nervous, Santa eased himself out of his chair and proceeded to lay on the ground with Brayden and play with his toys together.
“Brayden was shy and inched his way over slowly and then Santa just slowly gets out of his seat and gets on the ground and starts playing with the toys that my son brought.”