Lily has always loved "characters". Whether the character is the Easter bunny, the Pirate Parrot (we live in Pittsburgh), an anthropomorphic pierogie, or St. Nicholas, Lily likes it. She's fascinated by them and follows them and points and giggles, interjecting repeated hellos where she feels too long a time has elapsed from the previous greeting. We see Santa a couple times at this time of year, but the local mall always has an amazing Santa --real beard, velvet suit, waistcoat, long red fur-trimmed cloak-- the works. Growing up with elastic-string fake-beard Santas with pillow-stuffed bellies, I've never seen a better Santa Claus. As much as she likes him though, getting a good picture of her with him remains pretty tough. Just like getting a picture of her with anyone is tough. We've adapted our routines over the years, taken advantage of some autism-friendly "Visit Santa" events, and generally just gotten better at the whole thing, but it can still be a stressful visit. Here are a few ways we maximize our chances of getting a good shot of our Autistic/ADHD daughter with Father Christmas. 1. Attend an Event for kids on the spectrum: Every year a local charity gets space at the mall for kids with autism. The mall is either A) open early just for participants, or B) Open late for same. They dim the lights, play soft music, have assigned time slots (so you're not waiting in a line), hand out a social story to read to your child, and offer other amusements (story reader, big fuzzy teddy bear, open mall play area for the waiting kids, etc.). Despite all this, you can still stumble at the finish line if you don't catch lightning in a bottle and get a good picture. 2. Have multiple cameras: A lot of mall Santa photo areas frown on multiple photographers since they pay their rent by selling picture packages to you. HOWEVER, if you're buying a package regardless, typically nobody hassles you if you have a couple warm bodies firing digital cameras at your holiday angel like Uzis at a gang hit. While my wife distracts Lily and keeps her calm, I'm walking all over trying to snap pictures. I probably get two dozen while she's sitting on his lap, and if you have a grandmother or grandfather handy? Well you could get a hundred different shots to sift through looking for "just the right pose". [caption id="attachment_2316" align="alignnone" width="364"] At LEAST three cameras going...[/caption] 3. Prepare in advance: This year our slot at the event was bright and early, we prepped like it was a work day, showered and ready, kids fed and watered. Everyone happy. All the toys packed. Snacks available. It was like we were packing to go on vacation...or to war. 4. Bring backup: It's really hard to be 'entertainment' and 'wrangler' and 'photographer'. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's so much less stressful if everyone has a role. If daddy's taking the pictures, then mommy is the entertainment, and big sister wrangles her into position, for example. Again, the more help you can tap into, the better. We're blessed with lots of people who are willing to help if we can only swallow our pride long enough to ask them. But not everyone is. 5. Schedule it and get it done early: Not every visit can be a success, but if you start the process early enough, and get your supports to buy into your schedule, you know you'll be able to make it back to see the jolly fat man later in the season if the first visit is a dud. One year we held off (I think because we were dreading the prospect) until the last minute. We made due with a picture of Lily attempting to slap Santa across the face, or steal his spectacles, because it looked like she was reaching tenderly up to him...except for the snarl of rage. My point is, if you hold off scheduling the trip until the week leading up to the big day, you pretty much have to nail it first try. This year she sat nicely on Santa's lap. She seemed pretty content there, honestly. And although she was more interested in looking at his long white beard and babbling up at him than looking into the camera, we still managed to get a few good shots from the two or three cameras trained on her cute little face. Even...a smile?
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