A Mall Santa Did Everything He Could To Make An Autistic Child Feel Comfortable

    "It was so wonderful to watch."

    This is 36-year-old Erin Deely and her 6-year-old son, Brayden, of Charlotte, North Carolina. Like a lot of parents, Deely traditionally has her son take a picture with Santa at the local mall during the holiday season.

    As a baby, Deely would take Brayden to see Santa, but shortly after he turned 3, he was diagnosed with autism, and the photo-taking tradition has since become a challenge.

    Deely told BuzzFeed how their lives have changed since Brayden's diagnosis.

    We had to adjust to a life of therapy appointments in and out of our house, developmental specialists testing him, as well as doing therapy with Brayden on our own time to help him meet milestones.

    We also had to sort of "grieve" that we wouldn't have typical holiday traditions (having pictures taken or throwing birthday parties, for example) because they were either too chaotic for Brayden or he just didn't understand that there was even a holiday happening.

    Through a post on a Facebook group for parents with special needs kids, Deely heard about the Caring Santa program, which gives autistic children a chance to meet the jolly man in the big white beard.

    The program is sponsored by Autism Speaks. By teaming up with 120 malls, it gives autistic children an opportunity to interact with Santa in a private, sensory friendly environment.

    On Sunday, the program came to SouthPark mall in Charlotte, and Deely decided to take Brayden. What happened when they arrived touched her heart, she explained as she recalled the meeting.

    Brayden immediately recognized Santa and got a shy smile on his face.

    I stood with him while he checked out some of the props. After a minute, Santa wound up a musical snow globe, put it in the middle of the floor and went back to his seat.

    Brayden was curious about it and crawled over to investigate. Santa waited a moment then slid down to floor and made his way over. From there, they played for about 15 minutes without ever speaking.

    She said between herself, her husband, and the photographer, many beautiful moments were captured.

    "I was so happy to see Santa getting down on his level because that's exactly what Brayden needs to feel comfortable in a new situation. It was wonderful to watch!"

    The photos have since been spreading on social media. "So many people have been inspired by this caring man," Deely said.

    Deely said that after her positive experience, she wants other parents of autistic children to know something.

    "Their children can absolutely participate in holiday traditions just like any other child!" she said. "These events are a safe place for your child to be themselves without the chaos of a traditional mall Santa."

    For more information on Caring Santa and other regarding autism, visit the Autism Speaks website.