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

2k
2k
3

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.”

santa-1
Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley
santa-2
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!”

santa-5
Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley
santa-4
Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley
santa-3
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.'”

santa-high-five

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.

2k
2k
3

RELATED VIDEOS

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Nonverbal Boy Pens Must-Read Article About Autism

5k
5k
6

Philip Reyes is a seventh grader at Heim Middle School in Williamsville, New York, and he recently wrote a piece about autism and communication for The Buffalo News. Reyes is nonverbal, uses Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) to communicate, and he hopes sharing his story will give other nonverbal kids the same opportunities as him.

“I am attacking the idea that autism is a bad thing that should be eradicated,” Reyes wrote. “For me, autism is a different way of sensing, moving and interacting with the world.”

“When people talked about my concerning behaviors in front of me I would feel embarrassed and pent-up shame,” he added. “I was made to feel horrible for my autism.”

Reyes didn’t start using RPM until he was 9, and he wrote that the results were life-changing:

I have been lucky that my parents never made the mistake of giving up on finding a way for me to communicate. I appreciate the value of communication because it allows a person to be known.

Before communication, I felt like a caged animal because I had no say in my life. Since finding my voice, I feel more human, as people listen to my words. Most people forget how lucky they are to be able to talk. I was not one of the lucky ones. But I was fortunate to learn to type to communicate. Through RPM, I learned to show I could learn normally and communicate.

It has been three years since I learned RPM. During that time I was able to switch from an autism school where I learned basic letters and numbers up to 5, to a regular public middle school where I am included in regular classes. I am with good teachers who understand me. I also have been able to try more new things like riding a bike and playing soccer.

You can read more of Philip’s posts on his blog, Faith, Hope, and Love…With Autism and be sure to check out his Facebook page as well.

5k
5k
6
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

16 Memes That Nail How Autism Parents Feel About Food

124
124
11

Parents of children with autism are like all parents — they want the best for their kids. That means you can often find an autism parent bending over backwards to find (healthy) food their kids actually want to eat. Because of sensory issues relating to food, as well as a need for strict routines, children on the spectrum can sometimes have a sensitive palate and specific meal requirements that restricts the number of foods their parents can offer them.

Our autism parents will do whatever it takes to keep their kids happy and healthy. That isn’t always easy, but, finding humor in those challenges can be a great way to cope.

We asked our readers who are parents of children with autism to share some of their favorite memes about food-related issues their family faces every day.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1.

Autism Parent shopping when they find something their child will eat
Submitted by Liz Stanley

2.

Your face as you attempt to process the reality of gluten free, casein free, soy free, etc for your child
From Autism Odysseys Facebook page. Submitted by Stephanie Walrath Shultz.

3.

How I feltThis weekend Posted by Autism Mommy on Monday, November 23, 2015
4.
Taste the Rainbow (skittles) but only after they have been put into color coded groups and looked at for half an hour
From Autism From a Dads Eye View. Submitted by Kevin O’Neill.
5.
an autism parent's face when told she won't be able to tell the difference between food brands
Submitted by Grantham Autistic Information Network (GAIN) Facebook page
6.
you might be an autism parent if you know what brand loyalty is
By My Crazy Little People Facebook page. Submitted by Gena Noslen.
7.
8.
Autism rule #20 when offering your child a new food stealth observation may be preferable to direct observation
From Autism Odysseys. Submitted by Stephanie Walrath Shultz.
9.
the perk of having a kid with food aversions? you usually dont have to share your food
Submitted by Gena Noslen
10.
how autism parents look when our child eats a new food (shocked)
Submitted by Liz Stanley
11.
autism household's menu: chicken nuggets and pizza
Submitted by Stephanie Walrath Shultz
12.
Can anyone relate? LOL! Posted by Autism Odysseys on Tuesday, November 24, 2015
13.
nobody hides vegetables better than an autism parent
By Autism From a Dads Eye View Facebook page. Submitted by Kevin O’Neill.
14.
If you mess up our pizza order one more time, I will hunt you down and find you in 30 minutes or less
Submitted by Melissa Cote.
15.
You can never find your shoes when you need them, yet you can find a single piece of onion hidden in your dinner.
Submitted by Liz Stanley
16.  
LOL!TY Ink for Autism Posted by Rain Mom on Tuesday, November 17, 2015
  What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.  Related: 30 Autism Parents Describe Their Kids’ Bizarre and Funny Eating Habits

124
124
11
TOPICS
, , , Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To the Person Who 'Can't Believe' I Had Another Child After My Son's Diagnosis

1k
1k
2

A couple years ago, I was telling an acquaintance about my son Treven’s autism diagnosis. Then I mentioned that I also have a younger son. The person’s comment didn’t register as offensive at the time, but now that I think back on it, I wish I could go back in time and set this person straight.

The comment was, “I can’t believe that you had another child after finding out your oldest has autism.” 

Well… for one thing, Treven was only 13 months old when we found out we were expecting his little brother, and Treven hadn’t started to show any signs of autism yet.

But, that’s beside the point. We decided to have another baby right away because Treven was a dream baby. He slept through the night at 6 weeks old, and he was happy and loving and hardly ever cried. He actually made my husband and I want another baby right away because he was so easy to love and such a bright spot in our lives. Furthermore, if we would have known about Treven’s autism, we still would have had another child.

Not that I should have needed to explain any of that. It always amazes me when people, especially parents, think it’s OK to make a comment like this.

I try to be understanding of other people’s ignorance, and most of the time I try to assume they probably don’t know what else to say, so an awkward comment slips out. And I try to put myself in their shoes. I guess that is one of the traits I’ve inherited from being a mother of a child with special needs. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and I try not to judge.

This particular comment is only one of many I’ve heard over the years in regards to my son’s diagnosis…

“Maybe he’s just deaf.” (My son is nonverbal.) “Are you sure he has autism?” “You’re not going to medicate him, are you?” “Well, why don’t you just medicate him?” “Why doesn’t he eat healthier?” “He’s too thin.” Etc., etc., etc.

Then, in the quiet moments of the night (if it’s a “good” night), I am kept awake by the “little comments.” They run rampant through my mind. And they hurt. And they make me question myself. And I worry about making the right decisions for both my child with special needs and my neurotypical child. And that is not something that a parent, especially a parent already on the brink, should have to ponder.

No parent should have to rationalize or explain their parenting decisions to anyone. As a special needs parent, I’ve had many feelings of, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.”

The bottom line is this: Treven’s younger brother is his best friend. And nothing about Treven (not even his worst day with autism) would ever make us not want to parent him or any other child. Autism is hard, but I would never say, “I sure hope we don’t have another kid like him.” Even thinking this breaks my heart.

Treven is an amazing gift, and we treasure him for the wonderful person he is. He’s the best part of me and the best part of my husband combined, and there has never been any regret with creating him, just the way he is.

 Follow this journey on Love Needs No Words — Chuckie’s Life With Autism.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

1k
1k
2
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To Children With Autism, From a Santa With Autism

903
903
0

To all the children with autism around the world,

Hi kids, Santa here and I’m writing to you from the North Pole to tell you how excited we are that Christmas is coming! My elves are hard at work making toys, and the reindeer have been preparing for our long trip around the world. I’ve noticed my naughty list is much lighter this year, so I’m sure you have earned a spot on my nice list.

The elves and I are writing to you today to let you know we understand how the holidays can be tough sometimes, especially when it comes to meeting me. Malls can be loud, the crowds can be pushy and it can be an overwhelming experience. How do I know so much about this? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret…

I have autism, just like you.

When I was younger, the wind blowing in to bring snow for my sleigh to land on made my head spin. The elves practiced carols and sang out to spread Christmas joy, but the loud volume and pitches of their voice made me want to hide under Mrs. Claus’s apron. Whenever the reindeer played their reindeer games, all of the hustle, bustle and excitement overwhelmed me, and I would need to lie down and relax. Even when I would go to malls to see other lovely children, like you, I would feel out of place during the holiday season and never really know why.

As I got older, with the help of my elf family, reindeer friends and of course Mrs. Claus, I became more and more comfortable in all of these situations. Sometimes I still have a hard time with these things — and that is OK!

Thanks to all of the support we’ve had through the years, the elves and I have decided we are prepared to bring a little bit of our North Pole Christmas cheer directly to you! You see, because of my younger days, I’m now going to help host an autism-friendly day for you all to enjoy! My elves will teach you all the songs they practiced, on the quieter side just for your ears. The elves are also going to show you how they do arts and crafts, North Pole-style. And finally (and this is my favorite part), you and I will take a picture together so we can both remember how much fun we had celebrating Christmas.

The elves and I are so excited to meet all of you in person. I can only hope we will be able to host more autism-friendly events for all the children with autism around the world. Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays,

Santa

You can learn more about our Autism-Friendly Day at Santa’s Elf Factory in Jersey City, New Jersey here.

A version of this post originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or illness during the holiday season, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

903
903
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Shooting at Inland Regional Center: A Parent's Thoughts

6k
6k
3

I am a parent of a child with autism. Ten years ago, before I knew she was on the spectrum, she received early intervention services. Services that were crucial to her development, to her ability to learn how to walk, to learn fine motor skills, gross motor skills, to speak. Her very future relied on these services — not from a doctor’s office, a neurologist or any other specialist. No, a child can only get services like these from a regional center, and today, Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, where she has been receiving services ever since, was reportedly under attack by three shooters. And people were killed. And my heart sank.

I thought of the many case workers over the years who have spent countless hours advocating for my daughter who were placed in danger. One in particular will always be close to my heart. Though the school district diagnosed my daughter with autism, the Inland Regional Center did not, and this would have prevented her from receiving autism services I knew she needed. Her case worker fought to get those services anyway, and she won. She cared enough to do this for my child because she cared about my child’s future just as much as I do. And my child is thriving now, making gains, doing things I never imagined, all because of the services from the Inland Regional Center, because her case worker was on my side.

I thought of the respite care I’ve received through the regional center funding, and what blessings these respite workers have been to have in my home. Without them, I would be hanging by a thread. Their help has been invaluable in giving me peace and support while raising my special children.

Just six weeks ago, I came full circle as I brought my 2-year-old son to the Inland Regional Center for evaluation to determine if he was on the autism spectrum. He had already been enrolled in the best 39-hour-a-month early intervention program for the last 18 months, fully funded by the center. A kind, welcoming psychologist assessed him. She played with him, she laughed with him, she spent two hours with him and she listened to my story and my appreciation for the many services I’ve received from their center. I recently got a certified letter from Inland Regional Center, saying he was discharged because he had no qualifying diagnosis. He will no longer receive services from this center, but I will forever be grateful for their generosity, and to his case worker, who I pray was not harmed today.

The Inland Regional Center, and all regional centers, are the vital link in the chain of children with disabilities. They provide services that no school district or medical professional provides: they come to your homes. They sit down and listen to you. They fight for your children. They are your advocates when you are too tired to be one. They give services to your children when they become adults. They are right there with you, helping you to understand, to support and to raise your children.

To all the countless therapists and providers who have come to my home as a result of the Inland Regional Center, I say, thank you. You have made my job as a parent to children with special needs more manageable, and more hopeful.

I will forever be grateful to those selfless individuals who have fought traffic to meet me in my living room, to give me comfort like no one else could. They are an integral part of my family’s life — in fact, they’re almost like family. I owe so much to them and to my children’s development.

Follow this journey on The Special Reds.

More on the San Bernardino shooting: 

– Live updates
How to Help Your Anxious Kids When Bad Things Happen
Dad Reads Texts From Daughter in Building During San Bernardino Shooting
Politicians Tweet Responses to San Bernardino Shooting

Video From Inside Building at San Bernardino Shooting

6k
6k
3
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.