This Mall Santa Didn't Follow Protocol for a Boy With Autism

During an Autism Speaks Caring Santa event in Charlotte, North Carolina, one mall Santa went the extra mile for a little boy with autism.

Maeghan Pawley, a member of Autism Speaks’ Family Services team, told the organization the boy’s parents were unable to convince him to sit on Santa’s lap. However, Santa was determined to help the child feel comfortable, so he laid on the floor with him and the two played with a snow globe.

santa lays on the floor to play with boy with autism
Image courtesy of Autism Speaks / Maeghan Pawley

“The whole staff (Santa included) was overly accommodating for all of our kids, really trying to get the best picture and create the best experience possible, regardless of how much time or patience was needed to do so,” Pawley told Autism Speaks.

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

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.


Amazing News for Runner With Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Epilepsy

Kiley Lyall just made history as the first person with autism to grace the cover of “Women’s Running” magazine.

Dropbox - Credit John David Becker Women's Running3
John David Becker “Women’s Running”

The 24-year-old runner and aspiring model has autism, mild cerebral palsy and epilepsy and beat out seven other inspiring women to win the cover. Not only is it the first time anyone with autism has been on the cover of the magazine, but also the first time for someone with cerebral palsy and epilepsy as well, the magazine told The Mighty in an email.


We don’t even know how to thank everyone who shared Kiley’s story and voted for her during this magazine contest filled…

Posted by Kathleen Quain-Lyall on Wednesday, October 21, 2015



Lyall’s mother, Kathleen, entered her daughter into the competition at “Women’s Running” magazine after finding it online. Lyall was then chosen out of 3,000 people to be one of eight finalists.

Courtesy of Kathleen Lyall

Lyall, who lives with her family in Bourbonnais, Illinois, has been running since she won her first relay at Special Olympics when she was 8 years old. Lyall and her mother often run together, and after they’d done many 5k charity races, Lyall set her sights on the Chicago Half Marathon. She’s now completed that race twice, most recently on September 27.

Oliver Baker “Women’s Running”

Lyall’s love of running has even helped to improve her condition, People reported. Stress is often one of the triggers of her seizures and her mother believes that because running helps alleviate her stress, it has reduced the amount of seizures she has.

John David Becker “Women’s Running”

“With everything she struggles with, she realized that running made her body feel so much better,” Kathleen told People. “She started talking more, and she started wanting to run more because it made her feel better.”

Courtesy of Kathleen Lyall

We don’t even know how to thank everyone who shared Kiley’s story and voted for her during this magazine contest filled with eight very amazing, inspiriational women runners,” Kathleen Lyall wrote on her Facebook page. “Kiley will be now be able to represent all of our uniquely-abled athletes, as she not only follows her dream of modeling, but most importantly, running.”

John David Becker “Women’s Running”

Congratulations, Kylie!

How Our Holidays Have Changed Since My Son's Autism Diagnosis

“I want a roll,” my son said through clenched teeth, anxiously staring at all the food laid out on the table.

“Let’s try some turkey too…just a little,” I coaxed, feeling embarrassed that my sister had worked all day long, making a huge Thanksgiving meal for us, and my son was about to meltdown over there not being “anything to eat.”

“No,” he said firmly. “A roll. And then I will have some pie.”

Another member of my family tried to help. “You can’t have pie unless you have something to eat. This is all wonderful food. Eat some of it.”

Not helpful.

I could see the pressure getting to him. The other children were joyfully making tons of noise. The adults were laughing and having fun. It was warm and loud, but it was a nightmare for my son.

He clenched his fists. I got him a roll and tried to coax him to his chair. He kicked the chair and refused to sit down. My family stared at me and the message was clear.

Are you going to let him behave like that?

Happy Thanksgiving.

My son happily opened his Christmas presents. He was excited to see the new chemistry set that was first on his list. He loved the new books. He was smiling and joyful. I took a ton of pictures and started to relax a bit. Maybe he would have a good day and enjoy himself.

Then it was time for us to leave for the airport.

I had been prepping him for days, knowing that the transition might be tough. “We will open our presents, have Christmas tree-shaped pancakes and then we get to go fly to have another Christmas with Auntie and Grammie.” All week long he had nodded his head in agreement.

But when the time came, he snapped. “No,” he yelled and started banging his head with the iPad.

I moved towards him to try and help. He took one of his gifts and smashed it into pieces. My husband yelled. “That was brand new. Some children don’t get anything for Christmas, and you’re breaking your toys before you even play with them?”

My son began wildly flailing, crying, trying to find anything to break or to hurt. He scratched his arms and his face. He scratched my arms and my face. We sobbed.

Merry Christmas.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas I just described were the last ones we celebrated before learning my son has high-functioning autism. To me, they are a blur of stress, sadness, anger and fear. I think they may also be for my sweet boy.

The holidays are a very stressful time for my family. Take my son with his with massive sensory issues and rigid thinking and then add holiday travel, sleeping in unfamiliar places, the noise of a large family all crowded into one space, new foods, no routine, the anxiety of wanting to open presents, the anxiety of all of the presents now being opened and the sheer exhaustion of not sleeping well and not eating well. Put it all together and what you get is a tough season for my son. And, if I’m honest, for me, too.

For a long time, I was bitter. I love traditions. I love Christmas and Baby Jesus. I love cookies with kid decorations and the smell of Christmas trees. I love baking pies for Thanksgiving and eating my sister’s ridiculously good turkey. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And yet for many years in our family, it was one of the worst.

After finally getting his diagnosis and learning more about my son’s needs, we have taken a much different approach to celebrating the holidays. We have found small changes have made a significant difference. Here are three ways we are learning to enjoy the season, while accommodating my son’s needs:

1. Food doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

So much of Thanksgiving and Christmas involves food. New foods, savory foods and foods we don’t eat except during this season. Food is one of my favorite parts of the holidays but not so much for my son. I have learned to just let him eat what he wants during celebrations. The reality of dealing with the noise and unfamiliarity is enough of a challenge for him. I have found there is no need to fight a food battle when he’s completely overwhelmed. If he just wants a roll and some pie, I might ask him if he wants me to grab him a slice of cheese to go along with it. No matter what, I encourage him to just eat what he can, and then I can enjoy my own meal.


I also have chosen two traditions that he can count on each year that revolve around food. One is cookie baking and decorating, and the other is pancakes shaped like Christmas trees on Christmas morning. He loves both and so do I. Anything beyond that is purely optional, and I don’t push.

2. Surprises aren’t always good.

I know this is going to sound like sacrilege to many of you, but my son knows in advance what most of his presents will be for Christmas. We found the anxiety of not knowing what presents he would or would not get defeated the purpose of giving him presents in the first place. One year, he was so anxious about it that he was having daily meltdowns — and there was still a week to go before Christmas morning.

Letting him know the main gifts he will receive in advance helps him look forward to the day instead of stressing over it. I still get him little unknown treats for his stocking, and he has no idea what he will receive from other members of our family, so there is still a little bit of surprise.

3. Less is more.

When I say less, I mean a lot less. Less of everything. Less decorations, less travel, less parties, less presents, less candy, less family, less traditions, less mess. Less really has proven to be more for our family.

We are now super intentional about how we celebrate. For us, it means having only a handful of traditions, like allowing him to pick out a new snow globe each year and spaghetti (one of his only tried and true meals) on Christmas Eve. It means seeing family but for shorter periods of time and with a quiet space always available. Most importantly, the holidays have become more about talking about why we celebrate and the importance of family and less about the celebrations themselves.

Simplifying our holidays has not only helped my son, it has also helped all of us stay grounded in the reason we do any of this in the first place.

Thanksgiving is about gratitude.

I believe Christmas is about Jesus.

Anything beyond that is optional, not just for my son, but for us all.

Follow this journey on Not the Former Things.

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.

To Santa, From the Mom Whose Son With Autism Pulled You Aside

Dear Santa,

My son, Cristian, talks about you nonstop starting in mid-October. He wants to know what your favorite cookies are, how the weather is in the North Pole and just how many toys you can fit on your sleigh. He wonders how you’ll get into our house without a chimney and how you’ll find the children who don’t live in homes. He asks how the reindeer are doing — especially Rudolph — and how they stay warm during your trip. He wants to know the best way to send you his list and how you’ll know whether he’s been naughty or nice.

Cristian has never been scared of you personally, since you always bring a smile to his face. He gets excited when he sees you on TV at the end of the Thanksgiving parade because he knows it’s your time to shine. If he’s being naughty, I might have to tell him you may not make appearance at our house on December 24. But he knows you always pull through for him. 

He loves to sing songs about you in the car but only starting the day after Thanksgiving. He knows that you’ve sent Elfis Presleigh, our Elf on the Shelf, to watch over him and make sure he’s being as good as he can be.

Cristian has turned Christmas Eve into one of his most favorite routines. We come home from church and eat one of his favorite foods — spaghetti. He then searches for the last gift that Elfis left him, which is always a new pair of pajamas. We then work on the letter to you, which is always filled with crumbs from the cookies he eats along the way. We fill up a platter with cookies for you and carrots for your reindeer friends and head to the couch until he falls asleep watching Christmas specials and dreaming of sugarplums and your arrival.

Mandy Reilly.2-001

I just want you to know all of this so you’re not offended if he has a meltdown near you this year when we visit you for a “Breakfast with Santa” event at his school next Saturday. As I’m sure you know, Mr. Claus, Cristian has autism and ADHD. Do you remember last year? It was touch and go there for a while because he wanted it to be just you, him and the photographer in the library. No one really understood, but you and I did — and that’s all that mattered. As your gloved hand grabbed mine and told me everything would be all right, I felt a wave of calmness rush over me. I remember asking him on the way home why he didn’t want anyone in the room, myself included, and he told me that it was his special moment with you.

I’m not sure what you two talked about, but he walked out of that room with the biggest smile on his face holding the bag of goodies you gave him. He wouldn’t tell me what he asked you for, but I’m guessing you pulled through for him. When I saw the picture of you and Cristian later, I could tell the way you held him tight and the smiles on your faces that you definitely pulled through for him.

I do know one thing you told him, and it brought tears to my eyes when he told me about it. You told him to be a good boy, but you further specified what you meant. You told him you know he’s special and to try really hard because you know it can be difficult sometimes for him to sit still, pay attention or hold his emotions in. But then you told him you know he’s a boy with a good heart and full of love and that you were proud of him. Santa, you couldn’t have said it any better.

Thank you, Santa, for always pulling through for Cristian. For clearing out the room so my boy could have his moment with you. For understanding all children deserve to have a special moment with you, regardless of their special needs. For being as magical and wonderful in real life as you are in his dreams. For bringing that smile to his face — a smile that will be forever engrained in my memories as the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. For bringing the pep to his step no matter what time it is as he drags me down the stairs on Christmas morning to see what you’ve brought him.

One day, he’ll stop believing in you, and it will be one of my saddest days as a parent. But until then, I’m going to soak up every moment. Thank you for making all of those moments possible.


One Grateful Mommy

P.S. Chocolate chip or sugar this year?

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love during the holiday season. 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.

Mom Desperately Searches for Primrose-Colored Markers for Autistic Son

Stacey Haley’s 12-year-old son Will loves coloring, but lately the only marker he’s interested in using is the primrose shade. Will has autism, and Haley says the color is more than just an obsession — it’s Will’s security blanket.

“He goes to sleep thinking about it and he wakes up thinking about it,” Haley told CTV News, adding that her son won’t leave the house or go to school without his primrose markers. “Purple just didn’t cut it,” Haley continued. “Normally, I kind of choose my battles. The marker is an easy one.”

The Haley family, who is from Bowmanville, Ontario, quickly realized that buying hundreds of packs of Crayola markers just for one color was neither economical nor practical. So they turned to the Internet to see if friends and family might be able to spare a few markers for Will.

In a post on her Facebook page, Haley wrote, “He is obsessed over a Crayola marker – the color ‘primrose’ to be exact. He uses it all the time. But they inevitably run out… No primrose means we can’t drive by a Walmart or Staples without him wanting to jump out of the car to buy a pack. No primrose means hell in my household.” Haley offered to trade friends and family some of the extra markers she had for primrose ones, and she said she would feel like she “won Christmas” if she could present her son with a bag full of his favorite hue.

After posting the message, Haley said she was overwhelmed by the response she received. Not only did friends share the message with everyone they knew, but the family started receiving hundreds of primrose markers from people all over Canada and the United States. Then Crayola Canada heard about the Haley’s request, and the company will be sending Will “enough primrose markers to keep him coloring for the foreseeable future,” according to CTV.

Haley said Will doesn’t need any more markers, but she is touched and incredibly thankful “that [the] community is so strong and people are so good and they want to help.”

To the Teenager Just Diagnosed With Autism

I would first like to say, “Welcome to the club.” It’s a club with some of the greatest people you’ll probably ever know. Believe me, I know how you feel. You’re probably feeling really overwhelmed right now, which is completely OK. I went home after I found out and curled up in a ball for hours and cried. And that’s OK. You need to take time to let yourself digest this. Just remember: It doesn’t change who you are.

I found out about my autism in an unhelpful way when a friend read it on an attendance list and acted as though it was a bad thing. Since I knew absolutely nothing about autism, I naturally assumed she was right. My other mistake was how I tried to learn about autism. Being a teenager, I would be willing to bet you’re already looking on your phone, laptop or some other device. Put it down. Just do it. The only thing that will accomplish is convincing you this is the worst thing that could exist in the world. And that’s probably what it feels like. I won’t make it sound better than it is and say this isn’t going to be hard. Because it is. There are going to be days when it feels like the whole world is in your way, and every word a person says just confuses you more. So no, this isn’t the easiest path that we could be on.

Abby Stansel.1-001

I spent about a year after my diagnosis hating everybody in the world and myself. I felt like I was never going to amount to anything. And unfortunately, some people won’t believe we will amount to anything. You will probably be told not to care about those people, which I know will be difficult. So I suggest something else. Don’t pretend they don’t exist. Use them as your motivation. When you read or hear people saying you can’t do anything, lock it away in your brain. When you accomplish something, you can tell them in your mind that you’re better than people think you are. It’s a wonderful feeling.

When I was first diagnosed, the hardest for me was that my parents acted like it didn’t exist. I didn’t (and haven’t) spoken to them about it, and it takes a toll sometimes. I would advise to just talk to your parents. Just talk. And I know talking can be hard and miserable and confusing and frustrating and a thousand other things. If you don’t talk to them, though, you’re going to spend a long time wondering what they think and form incorrect thoughts about them and yourself. Maybe it’ll be a five-minute conversation. Maybe it will take five hours. But you have to try to get them to understand, at least a little bit, of who you are. And if they do that, you guys can help each other.

The last thing you should know about is school. I’m going to sound harsh here, but I think public school (especially middle school) is the worst idea anyone ever had, and I wish it didn’t exist. I don’t know how your experience in school has been going, but since I’m a pessimist I’ll assume you’ve had at least some…troubles. Some teenagers seem to find pleasure by harming others. They feed off of our pain, so they can feel better about themselves. And I know how badly it sucks. Believe me when I say I know. The last thing I ever wanted to do was go to people and tell them about bullying, because when I did, nothing was done. But you have to try. You have to try and change it. Even if you can personally endure it, we all can’t. We can’t all take what some of us go through. So please, try.

I know this is one of the scariest things in the whole world right now. I know you probably don’t even know how you feel. I sure didn’t. But all this diagnosis changes is how people treat the things you have trouble with. And I know it’s probably the last thing you feel right now, but be proud of this. It’s part of who you are. Embrace it.


Someone who has been there

Follow this journey on Life As An Autistic Teenager.

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.

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