Kerry Magro has autism. And he had a really tough time as a kid when he got around Santa Claus. When he was about 6, he went up to Santa and someone took a picture. That flash from the camera put Kerry into sensory overload, and he had a meltdown.
Says Kerry: “It was sad for me. I thought, why are those other kids able to do this, and not me? I didn’t have any friends, and I was really trying to find that connection.”
His parents knew right then and there that the mall, and Santa being in it, was not for their son.
All that was about 25 years ago. Kerry’s a grown man now, and, of course, he still has autism. But something has changed for him over that time. He now connects with many children. They will come up to him and talk to him and they even tug on his whiskers. That’s because Kerry himself is now a Santa Claus. And when he deals with children who have autism, he understands that more than anyone else can. He has been portraying the jolly old elf now for 5 years. The real Santa actually gave Kerry, of New Jersey, his full blessing to fill his boots, so to speak.
Says Kerry: “There’s a lot of joy… it’s a labor of love.”
With the help of family and friends, Kerry does his best to meet children with autism at their own level. He will have the lights turned down low, as well as the music. And he will give them plenty of time to meet and talk with him, often up to half an hour per child. If they want to sit on his lap, that’s fine; if they want to talk to him from across the room, that’s fine too. Kerry does whatever it takes to make those special children feel as comfortable as possible.
Sara is 10 years old and has been visiting Santa Kerry for the past 5 years… ever since he started. He now knows that when she touches his mouth after he bellows out a Ho Ho Ho that she likes it.
Says her dad, Brian: “She was trying her best, in her own way, to interact, and he is catching all those cues. It was just natural. She was so excited; she’s jumping up and down, and he’s jumping up and down with her. She was so happy. She had a smile from ear to ear.”
Kerry is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in education. Sounds like the perfect job for him… aside from playing Santa, of course.