OK, let’s be honest. Holidays and autism are a tough mix. And there are some particular traditions that one could easily argue were established for no other reason whatsoever than to, well, torture our children. Case in point – the Santa visit and photo-op.

Some of you might remember that last year, at the age of seven and-a-half, Brooke had her first-ever successful visit with the big guy. There were myriad factors that made it work, but none that was more important than a patient and gentle Santa who intuitively seemed to understand that our girl needed a little extra room, a little extra gentleness and a lot of extra patience. He was a gift.

After last year’s success, we were emboldened to try again. Because that’s what success does, doesn’t it? It builds on itself. It gives us the confidence to try again – to push the envelope ever so slightly farther, to expect and demand just a little bit more.

So we headed out to the Christmas Park on Sunday night with high hopes. We talked about what we would ask Santa to bring for Christmas. We prepped as though we knew it would work, because we knew that it *could*.

When we walked into the park, Katie was eager to ride the rides and take in the lights, but Brooke was all business. She was there to see Santa; the rest would follow. Katie convinced her to ride one ride and then we all followed her on a beeline for Santa’s cottage.

The line wasn’t easy. Babies cooed and cried and toddlers whined. Santa went on a break to ‘feed the reindeer’. Gotta love  *that* euphemism, eh? So we split up. I waited on line while Luau and the girls wandered through the cottage, poking around and looking at the various displays. As Santa came back to his station, the girls followed on his heels, rejoining the line to wait for a chance to see him up close.

When it was her turn, Brooke approached Santa slowly. She went up to him on her own, but stopped a couple of feet from him and pointed. “You say, Ho! Ho! Ho!” she said. It wasn’t clear if it was a declarative statement or a command, but Santa had it covered.

“That’s what I sound like when I laugh,” he told her. “But there’s only one way to make me laugh. You have to tickle my beard.”

She was happy to come close enough to oblige and he was quick to reward her with a hearty, “HO! HO! HO!” She couldn’t have been happier.

He asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she told him. “I would like a hamster.”

God bless him, Santa looked over toward me and Luau before responding. I shook my head ever so slightly so he said, “Oh, gosh. Wouldn’t you know, my dear, Rudolph’s pet hamster had babies but we JUST gave the last one away today. If I don’t bring you a hamster, what else would you like?”

I could have kissed the man on the mouth. Except that would be creepy, so ya no, not really. 

After a few more tickles of the beard eliciting a few more HO! HO! HOs! it was time for the obligatory picture. “Over here, honey. Look over here!” the kid behind the camera yelled.  I snapped back, “Please don’t worry about where she’s looking.” I sounded like a – well, um, yeah. Hey, I’d said please. I felt badly, but hey, those pictures always suck anyway, right? I mean, right?

Maybe not so fast.

After Katie took her turn with the big guy (and just to mess with him told him she wanted a unicorn), we grabbed the photographer’s information and went on our merry way, half-heartedly promising to look up the photos online.

I was perfectly happy with the photos I’d snapped with my phone. I mean, I had this ..

And this ..

And this!

And this .. (What, you thought I’d leave her out?)

So really, why on earth was I going to need or want anything else?

And then I went online. And I saw this ..

(Ed note: We did pay (a LOT) for the digital image of the following picture. The company has yet to send it via e-mail but I have the receipt and want to be clear that I am not stealing anyone’s property here. Moving on ..)

(As soon as we get the actual image, I will replace the proof so there isn’t writing across my kid’s face.)

Upon seeing the picture, I wrote a note to some of my Mama friends. This is what it said,

Last night we went to see Santa. Last year was the first time B had ever gotten close to him / talked to him.

This year? Holy effing AMAZING batman.

And a picture. We got a picture. You know the stupid one they try to get you to buy? And you don’t cause it’s stupid and a rip off and you took your own anyway? That one? I bought it. I couldn’t pay fast enough.

The experts can say all they want about stagnation and regression and growing social / academic gaps. And I know that it’s all true — in context.

But this picture tells a different story, Mamas. One of progress and development and quantum leaps forward.

That’s right.

So Merry %$@#!& Christmas.


If your kiddo has yet to embrace Santa, please don’t lose hope. It can happen. And when the time is right (and the Santa is right) I promise it will have been well worth the wait.

Ed note: I will be continuing to compile my contributions to #YouMightBeAnAutismParentIf … HERE, so please check back to see the latest additions. Or join the fun on Twitter HERE

40 thoughts on “HO HO HO

  1. Hey Jess…priceless! I love it!!!! The last time I ‘did’ Santa (pardon the expression) I had a kid ‘throw-up’ on me…never again!!!! Looks like Jess loved it! So happy for all of you. The smile on her face tells me it’s been a long way since the tooth extraction in her memory!!!! Biggest hugs from Down Under. x 🙂

  2. I love that this worked out for her (and you)!!

    The line that really sang out to me: “We prepped as though we knew it would work, because we knew that it *could*.”

    Yup. And the prepping worked and she rocked!


  3. Perfect pic!! Happy for you!
    My son, no interest what so ever on Santa.
    But that’s ok. At least I got a great pic of him with Santa while he was still a baby!
    Merry Xmas!!

  4. I don’t know if it’s my pregnancy hormones or what but as I was looking through your beautiful pictures taken on your phone I had the biggest smile and upon seeing the one the photographer took where she’s looking straight at them and smiling, I burst into tears! How far she’s come and what an accomplishment! I can only hope my son will get there one day for now we just continue to try, try, and try again. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful memory gives me a glimmer if hope.

  5. I love the pic and love that she was able to “do” it! However, I love the 1st pic YOU took! It captures the magic of Santa talking to her, telling her something important by pointing to her! 🙂 They are all great pictures!! And what an awesome step for B and for her family. Won’t it be great to have a smile on your face the whole day? 🙂

  6. Beautiful pictures. I would have Bought it too. I had the same experience with a random visit to the Easter Bunny. I think most if these experiences come for our kids, just much later than average. Daniel didn’t trick or treat until he was much older. Now he is 15 and happily walking around dressed as a clown. It’s getting a bit ridiculous…. Congrats!

  7. We’ve been talking it up. Last year Ben was willing to accept a gift from Santa at a special needs Christmas Party. We were thrilled!
    At the mall, he’s willing to look from AFAR and wave hi. This year… we’re going in. We’ll give it the good try. Hope we get a picture with a grimace instead of a scream. baby steps…lol

  8. This is awesome! I absolutely love the pictures you took. She seems enraptured with Santa and comfortable.I am so happy for you. There is magic and awesomeness in those pictures!

    I haven’t gotten there, but I am hoping this will be the year. I am hoping autism and a first trip to Christmas Disney World style will be just as successful and I will be able to get some of those priceless pics and see progress not the current regression I am seeing.

  9. WOW!!! it was a great success and then…surprise ending. what a pic. little do they know you would have paid TRIPLE whatever it was that you paid. you had me at “dont worry where shes looking”. so can relate, take the picture already! and then yours, so beautiful. but then OMG THE PIC THEY GOT. so maybe the push was a good one. congratulations. nice engineering with the wait too 🙂 ❤

  10. I am smiling from ear to ear. I just love the interactive pics from your phone…and the “money shot” (literally)…totally gives me hope. It is worth every penny. Thanks for sharing!!

  11. LOVE it!!!!!! This time of year is always so hard on our kids. It gives me hope to see that all the hard work on patience on the part of us Mommas and Daddies DOES eventually pay off!!

  12. loved your post last year and love it again this year. tears and all! what a wonderful memory! thank you for giving us all hope and inspiration!

  13. We have an amazing Santa in the little flower shop. Santa and his family own it, lol. He is very understanding and we have a picture of him BEHIND MacKenzie the year she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. We distracted her and he is sneaking up behind her with his finger on his lip like “shhh”. We also have a picture of Santa reading her a book. Took a long time until we had one like yours. I was tearing up when I saw it! Yay Brooke! And she even looks happy! Merry Christmas Momma!

  14. Oh how I love this and the fantasic photos! And while Brooke’s pictures brought tears to my eyes, Katie’s picture with her priceless tween expression made me laugh right out loud. LOVE THEM ALL!

  15. Okay, usually I’d bust on his poor synthetic beard or something pithy like that, but the look on her face is, honestly, the most beautiful expression of what it truly means to be grateful. And blessed. And yes, the spirit of the season.

    It’s pure grace.

  16. She’s so pretty, and it’s such a sweet blessing for you to have a photo of her progress. So many of our kids’ milestones and successes go by without a record (when some of those victories really deserve a gold medal and are front page news in our lives).

  17. FANTASTIC! I hope I can be as lucky when my little guy turns 7 1/2! He’ll glance towards Santa as we walk by really quickly and if I stop to look, he’s ready to bolt.

    I would have bought it too!

  18. That is pure awesome! Last year, at age 9, my oldest son smiled for the first time opening his gifts. It was the first year we didn’t have to ask if he liked what he got. It’s those small moments that make everything else worthwhile.

  19. First of all, I wanted to mention that the agency I work for has a Santa event on-site, where our favorite psychologists dress up and the children and families can get the good parts of the experience without (most of) the stressful ones. The ultimate idea, of course, is that our children have positive experiences in a safe environment, so that children and families have the confidence to try again, and maybe even push the envelope further. You and Luau do such a good job of helping Brooke push her boundaries.

    Second of all, that photograph is AMAZING. I am so proud of Brooke! And go, Santa!

  20. Ohhhhhhh Jess, your post gave me hope. SO MUCH HOPE.
    I have a 3 year old, high functioning autistic daughter. She is pretty good, most of her issues are sensory and, right now, communication. But I’m hoping that will change, since she has just started in a full day ABA preschool.

    All that aside, we had to do the dreaded Sears portrait this year for the holidays (not really by choice…it was one of those “let’s get the grandkids/cousins together for an adorable matchy match picture” things. I started taking tequila shots after that phone call in anticipation of this “grand” event). It wasn’t as painful as I expected, but it still broke my heart to see, proof after proof, that vacant, looking past the camera autism stare on her face, even when I was holding the ipad directly above the camera lens. And that experience just tailspun me into hopelessness. At least Sears takes 27 jillion shots in hopes of a good one. Santa? Even with my fastest camera shutter, a saint of a Santa (ours around here are mostly of the “beef and cheese” variety, a la “Elf”), a wish and a prayer, could I think to get one where she looks at me and, God forbid, smile. The only Santa picture we have is when she was 4 months old. Autism has taken so much from my family (and given us a lot, too, don’t get me wrong, there are days when I appreciate the blessings it has brought us). And something so little and insignificant as a Santa picture comes to represent a bigger burglary in the grand scheme of things, when all I want to do is hold on to anything, any “typical” task or event that we can still have, with an ironclad grip.

    Damn, I’m wordy.

    Anyways, all that said….your post? Gave me hope. That maybe…just maybe…all those autism stolen goods might come back to us. I’ll buy them off the back of a truck, I’ll get cheated out of a few years use and get last year’s model at a discounted rate….just if it meant that I can get something back. Some sort of typicality back.

    So thank you. Thanks for showing us Brooke, her gorgeous, grinning, sunshiney face LOOKING AT and coming through that damn camera and making me think….it could be my girl. It really could. IT REALLY WILL.

    Love, Chrissy

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