Bad Santa Taunts Autistic Boys

A Santa Claus was anything but jolly towards two autistic brothers at a shopping center in Queensland, Australia. It was the first time that 6-year-old Cameron Sleeth, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and 7-year-old Liam, who’s autistic, had visited Santa and both were looking forward to hearing him say “ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas” and telling him what they would like for Christmas.

Instead, as the says, the experience became a “nightmare.” Cameron was wearing a shirt that said “Think before you judge, I have autism.” Here’s what happened, according to their mother, Tammy Sleeth (I’m quoting the exchange in full because, unfortunately, this Santa Claus said several not-so-nice things):

“The boys went up to Santa, my six-year-old was so excited to see Santa and he was doing a little dance in front of Santa, I thought it was cute, he was happy,” she said.

“Then Santa looked at Cameron’s shirt and looked at me and said ‘has he had his medication tonight?’ and I said ‘excuse me?’. I was just disgusted.”…

“They started saying what they wanted and then about two or three seconds later he said to them ‘what about a jail cell?’,” she said.

“After he said that I thought I didn’t hear right and then he said it again, ‘do you want a jail cell?’

“My six-year-old responded, ‘jail cell’ and I was mortified, I thought how dare you, he’s not playing up, he’s not being naughty.”

Cameron still gave Santa a hug. Their mother was in tears after this — “how dare he insinuate my child needs to be institutionalized,” she said — and says she doesn’t want her sons to visit Santa again.

The man who was working as Santa that day is no longer employed at the Logan Hyperdome, where the incident happened. The shopping center says that this really bad Santa is being investigated and that they have sent a box of toys to the Sleeths.

The Daily Mail has a photo of Billy Bob Thornton playing such a character in the 2003 movie: What’s funny in theaters can be distinctly unpleasant in real life, it goes without saying.

I think it’s still likely that both boys were aware of the highly antagonistic sentiments directed towards them by the man in the red suit; who knows how it might affect their associations of the holidays. Regardless of who that Santa’s words were directed to, telling a child they should request a “jail cell” and asking their mother if they had taken their medication shows how deeply some very incorrect and harmful stereotypes about autism and disability are rooted in some individuals. Hoping that the rest of the holidays are truly joyful and peaceful for Cameron and Liam and their family. Perhaps some Santas also need some disability sensitivity training before donning their red suit and white beard?


Related Care2 Coverage

Is There an Autism Epidemic? Not Exactly, But…

Woman Charged With Theft of Autistic Boy’s Therapy Dog

Bullied For Being Autistic? 12-Year-Old Student Hangs Himself



Photo by Ja-nelle


Andrea A.
Andrea A6 years ago


Dr Clue
Dr Clue6 years ago

(@Nancy L.) To a certain degree I think your probably right. As long as the mother just played it off and Santa's bad taste was still said in Jovial character, there is a good chance the kids would have either missed it or blown it off entirely.

Later when the kids were out of ear shot mum could always drop a dime.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S6 years ago

Glad the mall sent them a box of toys and fired that awful santa.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Samantha James

That santa is such a JERK!!
If I had the opportunity of contacting that man, he'll wish he'd never treated those kids like that, no, he'll wish he never worked as a dress-up santa, no, he'll wish...okay! I won't say what I was going to on here.
Some people are such jerks! Those kids might grow up remembering that experience and I'm pretty sure their mum won't forget it.

Stephen Gyetko
Stephen Gyetko6 years ago

She should tell her kids that unfortunately, some adults are just jerks and it's not the kids fault, it's the so-called 'adult' who, through some need to be 'funny' or 'witty', chooses to make fun of a little kid. Would he do that to a blind kid or a kid in a wheelchair? Sick jerk needs to be either re-educated about the concept of simple human decency, that's all. Or maybe he should wear a sign saying he's not 'kid friendly' as he never learned the impulse control easily mastered by the average five year old.

Laurie Greenberg
Laurie Greenberg6 years ago

I do not think that mother overreacted at all. This horrible, cruel Santa was an abomination! I'm glad he was fired. The child may not completely understand the humiliation heaped on him, but I suspect he understood that his mother was crying. Both mother and child will need to heal from this horrendous experience. That guy shouldn't be allowed near ANY children, for he obviously hates them and likes to pull power trips on them. He is a jerk.

C.M Padget
Carolyn Padget6 years ago

All people that work with children need to have psychological testing prior to being hired.

Emily Gage
Emily G6 years ago

society has stereo typed many things, but to be down right blunt to a 6yr. old child is no excuse. The man, for being who he is and how he acted that particular day, should have never even had made any remarks like that. Luckily for the woman, her children are still young a have a long while to still believe in santa. I give my very best to all of you guys and wish everyone here at care2 happy holidays.

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

Make sure everyone knows what store(s) employees this person and never shop there again!!