Special-needs Santa delivers heartfelt cheer to disabled adults, kids

By Published On: December 15, 2022
A man dressed as santa claus sitting in a rocking chair, bringing joy to kids and disabled adults.

December 14, 2022, Colorado Springs, CO – Nobody leaves Bryan Dickson cookies or milk to fill his belly or carrots for the reindeer when he shows up at their house to deliver Christmas presents.  “But they should,” he said Wednesday, while practicing his “ho, ho, ho” chuckle.

Dickson gets something better, though. Heartfelt hugs, screams and tears of happiness greet the 27-year-old special-needs Santa at every house of special-needs adults that he visits in the days leading up to the holiday. “It felt like I was the real Santa,” he said of last year’s exhausting distribution. “Santa can’t be everywhere, so I figure I can help him out.”

Having a Santa who understands the nuances of his disabled peers, who tend to be loud and emotional — which some people find intimidating — helps clients feel comfortable, Dulle said.

“He doesn’t see the disability; he sees the person,” she said of Dickson. On Monday, Dickson will bring presents to the kids at Zach’s Place, a child and respite care center. Along with gifts, Dickson always passes on a healthy dose of cheer.

Dulle said there’s never a bad day in the life of Dickson, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities. “He always has a big smile,” she said, “and he puts others before himself and how they feel.” Dickson had long dreamed of playing Santa, and the COVID-19 pandemic opened the door. Dulle started the holiday gift drop-off after the organization couldn’t hold its annual holiday party in 2020. Group gatherings were still restricted, and staff hadn’t seen some clients for most of that year because the coronavirus left them homebound. Staff members dressed up in holiday wear to deliver presents three years ago. They also sang carols and waved at clients through windows. Dickson asked staff if he could take on the role of Santa for last year’s encore performance, which is now an annual tradition.

Employees purchase the gifts that are handed out using financial donations from parents, caregivers, individuals and companies such as Berwick Electric, Dulle said. Despite this year’s disappointing performance of the Denver Broncos on the field, the pro football team’s clothing and gear remain popular gift requests from clients, she said. Blankets, manicure sets, stuffed animals, Legos and science kits also are favorites.  Dickson listens to an earful of all the good things clients have done over the past year, as they await their gifts.

Even though the job of Santa is harder than it seems, Dickson said it’s worth enduring the hot, sweaty suit. “I just hope everyone goes crazy over seeing me, or I’ll have to retire,” he joked.

He’s a perfect fit, Dulle said. A great sense of humor and leadership skills are just the start. “He’s patient, adaptable, a good listener, and he doesn’t have issues with personal space,” she said. Want to know another secret? Dickson is also the Easter Bunny at Special Kids Special Families. Cupid might be next, Dulle laughs.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656 / Debbie Kelley / Staff Reporter, Education & General News & Features debbie.kelley@gazette.com