This Santa Goes the Extra Mile for Kids with Autism. Amazing!


You’ve got a shoe box filled with photos of you in horrendously awful polyester plaid jumpsuits sitting on Santa’s lap as a child.

Sitting on jolly old Saint Nick’s lap (or at least the look-a-like who wore the red velvet Santa suit at the mall) surrounded by elves and a bevy of faux snow is a childhood highlight.

Plus, there was always the chance to tell ‘Santa’ what you wanted for the holidays – bypassing mum and dad’s desire not to get you the Barbie Dream Home. Now that you’re a parent, you want the same experience for your child. But, wait. Your child doesn’t do well around crowds, can’t stand to be near all of that noise and has needs that go past what the regular mall Santa can offer. Now what?

Caring Santa to the rescue! Autism Speaks is partnering with Simon Property Group, Inc. (in the U.S.) and Noerr Programs Corporation to give children with special needs the chance to sit with Santa. The program creates a caring environment that allows kids who might not otherwise have the ability or opportunity to do a Santa Claus meet and greet to feel a sense of comfort. Turning the setting from a busy mall free-for-all to a more controlled and welcoming place allows children with autism (and other special needs) to take part in this holiday childhood staple.

The Caring Santa program provides private events for children with special needs and their families across the U.S. This gives many kids (and their mums, dads, brothers and sisters) a chance to do something that many of us take for granted – see Santa!

In an interview with People, mum of an autistic son Erin Deely talks about how much of a challenge the noise and pressure to sit and smile on Santa’s lap can put on her young child. Even though many parents take this smiling posed pic for granted, in Deely’s family it was a major deal. Feeling like she would never have this magical moment, the Caring Santa program allowed her son to see Santa in a way that he felt comfortable with. Instead of climbing onto the Saint Nick’s lap in the midst of a crazy-busy Christmas shopping-fueled mall, her son had the chance to hang out Mr. Claus in a quiet setting. Not only was the environment calm (in comparison to the usual mall madness), but Santa actually got down on the ground with the boy.

No, the family didn’t get the traditional “Hey mum, I’m sitting on Santa’s lab” photo. But, they did get plenty of pics featuring their little boy joyously smiling at the man in the big red suit (as the two sweetly played with toys together).

Ok, so a pretty picture with Santa isn’t exactly a requirement for every parent and child. Plenty of children practice non-Christmas celebrating religions – meaning that there is no annual Claus portrait. That said, for those who do celebrate the holiday, even something as seemingly simple as a mall Santa snapshot is cherished. For a child with special needs (who may have sensory or other issues that stop him from this annual entertainment), not taking the picture is just one in a lengthy list of things missed. The Caring Santa program brings this magical moment to children who may not be able to have it without the added advantages of the controlled environment.

The U.S.-based program isn’t the only one of its kind. Aspect’s (Autism Spectrum Australia) Sensitive Santa provides children with autism spectrum disorder the chance to meet Santa and have a photo taken, minus the sensory overload. Along with a low-key, less-stress environment, Sensitive Santa offers scheduled times for each child’s visit. This eliminates waiting in long lines or having to deal with hordes of other kids. Likewise, Sensory Santa also caters to families of children with special needs. Sensory Santa also uses scheduled bookings, and has a special chair next to Saint Nick for those children who aren’t ready to sit on his lap yet. With no distracting background music or lights, this Santa experience is gentle on the senses.


No child should miss out on making memories because of his needs. Specialised Santa programs bring children who can’t battle the mall crowds the chance to meet the magical man, without the unimaginable overload. For families like the Deely’s this is a special gift during the holiday season that money just can’t buy.

Avatar of Belinda Jennings

Belinda's a passionate advocate for community and connection. As the founder of the Mum Central Network she’s committed to celebrating the journey that is Australian parenthood. Mum to two cheeky boys, and wife to her superstar husband, they live a busy but crazy lifestyle in Adelaide. Great conversation, close friends and good chocolate are her chosen weapons for daily survival. Oh, and bubbles. Champagne is key.

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