Mall Santa Gets on the Ground to Play With 6-Year-Old Boy With Autism
A North Carolina family has the perfect photo for this year's Christmas card thanks to a kind-hearted Santa who got on the ground to play with their six-year-old son, who has autism.
Erin Deely told INSIDE EDITION how moving it was to see St. Nick get on the floor beside her son, Brayden, during their visit to the SouthPark Mall in Charlotte.
"It makes me want to cry seeing my son bond with someone," she said of Brayden, who was diagnosed with autism when he was three. "I want to hug that Santa so bad!"
Erin and her husband Daniel took Brayden to the mall in November as part of an event held by Autism Speaks. Each year, the organization and malls across the country provide appointments for children with autism to meet Santa without the crowds and at their own pace.
"Waiting in line, the noise, going up to a strange man and sitting on his lap - it would be too much," Erin told IE. "We would've been anxious and it's not worth putting him through that for a cute picture."
And the pictures they ended up with captured something far more precious.
"Brayden moved closer and Santa put down the snow globe and sat back down in his chair," she said. "Brayden went over and started playing with it. Santa edged his way over there really slowly."
Eventually they were playing on the ground, and Brayden was making eye contact with him. They spent around 20 minutes together as photographers caught their interaction.
"They didn't speak to each other apart from a few 'ho ho hos,'" his mom said. But best of all, "at the end, [Brayden] gave him a big high five."
Erin said she was amazed to see the response to photos taken by Autism Speaks' Community Outreach Manager Maeghan Pawley when they were shared online. One of the photos will definitely be going on the front of their Christmas card this year, she said, adding that she is so grateful to the group for organizing the event.
"For the special needs community this is a huge deal," she said.
For more information on other locations where the program is offered, visit Autism Speaks' website here.