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Picture of Sam, Denise and Santa

A Dress for Santa’s Helper

Many kids look forward to Christmas: the music, the decorations, the lights, the presents, Santa. For Sam Haworth, Christmas is a year-round affair.

“Sam loves Christmas and has a tree in her room all year round,” said Denise, Sam’s mother.

Visiting Santa every year is especially important to Sam. A special occasion she anticipates months in advance.

“Sam looks forward to this all year long,” Denise said. “She lives by her calendar so she has put all the ‘important’ dates to her on it and she tells me when things are coming up. Even if she doesn’t know the exact date, she tells me that the month for this or that is coming up.”

Not only did Sam anticipate her annual Santa visit this holiday season, she even saved up her birthday money for a special outfit for the day.

“We were out shopping and I turned my back on her for what seemed like just a second and when I turned around she was standing there holding this elf dress and accessories. She had gone around and picked up all the items she felt were necessary to make it work. She knew exactly what she wanted.

“She likes being helpful so in her mind being an elf would be helpful to Santa. Sam wanted an outfit that she could get multiple uses out of, so she wanted it to help with our volunteer work at a senior residence facility and for Santa and just to wear during the holidays.”

Sam loves her visits with Santa not least of which because of the amazing volunteers that put on the one-on-one event at the Thompson Center. Sam lives with autism and has been a patient at the Thompson Center for several years. The strides she has made over that time are apparent through her Santa visits each year.

“That first visit years ago, Sam was really shy and timid and it took her a while to warm up to Santa,” Denise said. “She seemed to not know what to do with Santa that first year, we had to encourage her to get beside him and talk to him.

Sam showing off her dress to Santa“Fast forward and she went from being super timid and shy to walking in with confidence, excitement and a take-charge attitude. This year she walked up to Santa and climbed into his lap and hugged him.  She has even written him letters and brought them in to read to him.”

Denise says Sam’s hard work at the Thompson Center has helped her overcome a number of obstacles.

“She was set up with some amazing therapists, they have helped her with her speech (so she could talk with Santa with confidence), some of her food pickiness. We worked through the steps trying new things like the cookies and hot cocoa so she could make the decision that she doesn’t like hot cocoa.

“Sam’s occupational therapists also helped her with her hand-writing skills so she could write her letters to Santa. Sam also has had some social group therapies that helped her with social settings and appropriate behaviors and responses to different things.”

These skills and behaviors have helped prepared Sam for a life of thriving with autism. While she may have outgrown her Santa visits by next year, Denise says her experiences at the Thompson Center will always be with her.

“The dedicated people at the Thompson Center truly want to make a difference in families lives make us so happy. They care and it shows!  We have found numerous resources to look into to help Sam as she grows and we haven’t been disappointed yet.”

And it’s impossible for those who will be assisted by “helper elf Sam” in the future to be disappointed either.