This holiday season I met a 5-year-old boy with autism who absolutely loves dinosaurs. He came to our Autism-Friendly Santa Weekend where children with autism like him were going to meet me, a Santa with autism. When he came to Santa’s village he laid on the ground and was pretending he was a dinosaur. We asked him “Would you like to take a photo with Santa?” and it just didn’t work out.
That’s when we decided to do something outside the box…
Next thing you know, I’m laying on the ground in my big Santa costume while talking to him and pretending I’m a dinosaur. Instead of forcing him to do something he didn’t feel comfortable with we decided to play up to what he enjoys. Several times while sitting on the ground he told me to come closer the more we talked about dinosaurs but when I was getting to close he would say, “no no no, don’t get to close.” We played on the ground while all the elves had the biggest grins on their faces. Finally, the boy felt comfortable enough to let me get just close enough to him so one of the elves could snap a quick photo.
It’s moments like these that I’m truly grateful we get to host these events for our kids during the holiday season. It was one of my favorite photos of the day. He got to be exactly who he wanted to be. When I was 4, I was diagnosed with autism. I could never go to malls to meet Santa when I was a kid due to having severe sensory issues. Today as a 27-year-old adult on the autism spectrum who’s a speaker and author, and now has played a Santa with autism for 2 years I can only hope we can make these events possible for more children on the spectrum.
We had 230 children with autism RSVP’d for the weekend. Each child was sponsored based on the generosity of members of our community so they could come to the event absolutely free of charge. Thanks to the sponsors we raised over $7,000 dollars and counting which is going into a scholarship program to help give out scholarships for students with autism to attend college.
In closing I just want those out there to know that when you trying to build a rapport with our children it can go a long way. We helped this young boy meet Santa for the first time and he’ll now have an ornament he could put on his Christmas tree.
This is a holiday event I’ll cherish for many years to come in our autism community.