The holidays can be overwhelming for children with autism, but this Santa Claus is an expert at making the experience suitable for kids of all needs — because he, too, has autism.
Kerry Magro, 28, a renowned public speaker and author, travels around New Jersey every December as a sensory sensitive Santa Claus, brings a catered experience to kids with autism and other special needs.
“Autism doesn’t stop in December. It doesn’t stop at Christmas,” Magro said in an interview with CBS News.
Magro was non-verbal when he was 2 years old, and diagnosed with autism when he was 4.
Understanding that children with autism experience their senses differently, he wanted to put together an accessible event for kids that would otherwise not be able to participate in the holiday experience.
“We dim the lights, we turn down the sound and try to help them as much as we can,” Magro said. “This event is more inclusive.”
Sarah Callighy, 8, was one of the nearly 200 children Magro visited with this year. She was diagnosed with autism, and is also non-verbal.
“Santa also has autism [so] it’s a special connection, a special bond,” her father, Brian Callighy, told CBS News.
In a blog post, Magro explained his trick is to give his undivided attention to the child, and work his performance around their needs.
“Every time I interact with them, I try to meet them where they are,” Magro wrote. “Whether it’s me sitting on the ground playing toys with them or keeping my distance if they don’t want to be touched.”
Among his helpers are Mrs. Claus, and a team of elves, made up of occupational therapists and special education teachers. Magro’s mom even plays the part of one of the elves.