The Touching Story Behind That Viral Photo of a Boy With Autism and Santa


A photo of a mall Santa on the floor with a young boy with autism went viral this week, and now we have more details about their encounter.

Brayden Deely was diagnosed with autism when he was 3, and his mother Erin Deely told Today.com that she and her husband gave up their ideas of “perfect Christmases and perfect birthday parties” because of the sensory challenges their now 6-year-old son faces.

I thought we would never get those holiday pictures with him because it’s something he can’t handle – the noise, and the pressure,” Deeley added to People.com. “He gets anxious if you ask him to smile, it’s all too much for him.”

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Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley
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Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley

But thanks to Autism Speaks’ Caring Santa program, the Deelys were able to bring their son to the SouthPark mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet with Santa in a much more relaxed environment. The private event gave the family a chance to hang out with Santa at their own pace.

Santa noticed Brayden’s hesitance, so he set a musical snow globe on the floor and went back to his chair. After a curious Brayden crawled over to the toy, Santa got on his belly too. “They didn’t even talk to each other, really, they just bonded and played, and Brayden started to be really excited and started looking at him and smiling,” Deely told Today.

“To be able to do something that other families do…normally a lot of things are harder for us as a family and we got to do the same tradition as everyone else, we just do it on the floor,” she told People. “I just want to hug this man. He’s so wonderful!”

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Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley
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Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley
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Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley

The Deelys spent 20 minutes with Santa, and Brayden gave St. Nick a high-five before going home. “At the end, Brayden didn’t want to leave,” Deely told Today. “He kept saying, ‘More Santa.'”

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For more information on the Caring Santa program, visit the Autism Speaks website and check out the list of locations near you here.

Has your family had a memorable encounter with Santa? Tell us your story in the comments below (or send us a photo at [email protected]), and we may use it in an upcoming post on The Mighty.

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