Going to sit on Santa’s lap around Christmastime is always the highlight of the holiday season for moms and children, but for moms with children that have autism, it may be a stressful situation. Children with autism are unpredictable and their moms don’t know how they will react.
However, this year, Santa Claus brought some Christmas magic to a little 6-year-old boy.
Naomi Johnson took her son to the RiverTown Crossings Mall in Grandville, Michigan, to see Santa.
Naomi Johnson‘s son is autistic, and while visiting with Santa, he felt like he needed to explain to Santa Claus why he may be on the naughty list this year, according to the Huffington Post.
His mom explained to WOOD-TV this week that Landon is often told he’s “naughty” by people who mistake his autism with bad behavior.
“You get the stares when you’re at the grocery store if he’s too loud, if he’s throwing a fit,” Johnson said. “He’s been told by other people before, ‘You don’t need to be so naughty,’ or ‘Why are you naughty?’”
“He wanted to tell [Santa] that he has autism,” Landon’s mom said in a moving Facebook post about the encounter this week. “He was flapping his hands, all excited to let Santa know.”
Johnson said as Santa sat next to her 6-year old son, Landon, Mr. Claus took the boy’s hands in his and started rubbing them to calm the boy down. Santa asked Landon if having autism bothered him. Landon said, “yes, sometimes.” Then Santa told him it shouldn’t, that it shouldn’t bother him to be who he is. Landon told Santa that he sometimes gets in trouble at school and it’s hard for other people to understand that there is a reason for his behavior and that he is not a naughty boy.
Santa told Landon, “It’s okay to be you. You know I love you and the reindeer love you and it’s okay. You’re a good boy,” Santa told WOOD-TV, recalling the exchange with Landon. “You’re a good boy, you know.”
Johnson said she already knew what Santa Claus said was true, but she needed to hear someone else say it. She said the fact that the words came from Santa made it extra special.
Lisa Goring, executive vice president of Programs and Services for Autism Speaks, says that the foundation partners with Simon Malls in 120 locations across the country several times in late November and early December to give autistic children and their parents a chance to have a wonderful Santa experience like Naomi Johnson’s son had.
“For some, they may have trouble waiting in line and some sensory challenges,” Goring said, according to ABC News, noting that the lighting, smells and crowds can overload and overwhelm an autistic child’s senses. “This is a way to really provide families with an environment that is so welcoming.”
This is the second year that The Autism Speaks Foundation and Simon Malls have partnered together to welcome autistic children. They set up times to visit with Santa when the malls are less crowded and display dimmer lighting and quieter music to help the autistic children enjoy the experience.
Landon had an amazing experience.
“He was the real Santa Claus,” raved Landon.(
Johnson said she was incredibly moved by Santa’s thoughtful words.
“This stranger in a red suit told my son the same message I’ve been trying to get through to him for a while now — that he’s special and I love him just the way he was made,” the mom told Today. “Seeing Landon’s face light up in that moment was just incredible. I couldn’t stop crying.”
Those five words, “It’s okay to be you,” made Christmas a little more merry for one little Michigan boy.
[Image via Shutterstock]