“Obviously, she’s only three and she can’t communicate well,” Williams told ABC News. “But I didn’t expect him to sign back to her. When he started communicating with her it was a beautiful moment.”
Santa, asking that his real name not be used, told ABC News he had no problem finding out what was on Mali’s Christmas list.
“She said she wanted a scooter and I asked if she wanted a dolly and she said she wanted some sweets,” Santa said. “She wasn’t communicating and I looked at her mom and she said she understands animals. I decided to go in and try my very best. I’m not the best signer in the world, but I think that every child should be given attention.”
Williams said Mali is not deaf, but doctors think “she may have a mental delay.”
“It’s been over the last year that we’ve noticed,” Williams said. “She’ll get there; she’s just a little bit behind with speech.”
Mali has been learning sign language from specialists at the Cleveland Unit Child Development Centre and Assessment Nursery at the James Cook University Hospital since September, Williams said. The center supports “children up to the ages of five who have special needs and disabilities, to learn and develop through play at challenging and appropriate levels,” according to the hospital’s website.
Mali and Santa’s brief chat made onlookers cry, according to mall manager Graeme Skillen.
“It was just one of those moments where the magic of Christmas just affected everybody,” Skillen told ABC News. “I was emotional, our security staff was emotional, the young child’s mother was emotional.”