Santa Is a No-No for These Moms of Autistic Kids

The "To Santa or Not To Santa" debate is one that brings out many opinions. Some swear you'll ruin a child's imagination without him, others swear your child will hate your forever and never trust you. I fall into the No Santa Here camp, but I'm not militant about it.

For two of my mom friends, Briar and Marj, the Great Santa Debate takes on a whole new meaning when they have to consider their childrens' unique thought processes. Both of their children are autistic, and both of them chose to have no Santa in their homes this holiday season, or ever.

I asked them both a little bit about why they avoid the fat red guy myth in their homes:.


Tell us about your kids.

Briar: I have two -- Alanna , 10, who has high functioning autism, and Kenny, 8 months.

Marj: Luke is 11, has PDD-NOS, ADHD, and OCD. He is all about the rules and structure. Ian is 9, has Autism and ADHD, and is nonverbal. He also is all about structure. 

Why doesn't Santa work for them?

Briar: My husband and I discussed frequently whether or not we wanted to do Santa. We were both fairly certain we wanted to skip the tradition, but when Alanna was diagnosed with autism, we were convinced. She doesn't comprehend lies -- they just don't register in her brain. Even sarcasm is very difficult for her to understand, so the idea of telling her that a big fat man came sneaking through the patio door (we've never had a chimney) to leave her presents was pretty abhorrent to both her father and me. We work very hard to help her understand the concept of social niceties, and we felt pretty confident that lying to her about something for years, even something as seemingly benign as Santa would damage her trust in us.

Marj: Luke was petrified of Santa from afar, even at the age of one. We never pushed it because I was trying not to make the whole season about Santa and presents. We read stories about it but he wasn't terribly interested. Then he came up with his own scientific conclusions that it was impossible for Santa to fly around the world in one night, that every Santa looks different (and he wasn't buying the whole "helpers" thing) and that Santa was a stranger, and strangers are NOT allowed in the house, because that is the rule. He has always been afraid of costumed people, or was, then. So we didn't pursue it.

When Ian was born, he screamed at the site of a guy in a red suit. And while we have decorations and such around the house, read books about many holiday traditions and the kids know who Santa is, we decided not to focus on it.They just aren't comfortable with it, even when a well-meaning family friend visited them at home dressed as Santa, trying to do a nice thing so we didn't have to take them anywhere to see Santa.

People are often very concerned that other kids who weren't told Santa was real will "ruin" it for other children. How do you handle that?

Briar: Just because we don't do Santa, it doesn't mean that we don't TALK about Santa. In fact, we've read The Night Before Christmas for years on Christmas Eve. She understands the magic of the story, and she understands that many other children believe that Santa is real. And she understands that people believe in lots of things that are different than what we believe, and that they are entitled to those beliefs. In fact, she's very careful about acknowledging those differences--she likes to ask people what holiday they celebrate so that she can wish them the appropriate holiday greeting. I've never worried about her spoiling Santa for other kids.

Marj: I have instructed Luke not to "ruin" Santa for other children at school in the same way I ask him not to discuss certain things because every family has different rules and beliefs and they are allowed to have those beliefs, just like we are allowed to have ours. We also don't do the tooth fairy or Easter Bunny. It was the same conversation we had with him about discussing puberty at school, since some parents don't tell their kids what we've discussed with him. Since he is a rule-based kid (and a bit of a policeman with his peers), it was easy, really. And Ian? Well, when he learns to talk and can tell another kid "there's no such thing as Santa." I'll throw a party. Then I will scold him.

Honestly, my biggest challenge with this? Other people who DO Santa are critical that we DON'T do it because our kids "deserve" it or we are stealing part of their childhood. To which I say: Kids can survive without Santa. Show them by example and teach them that this season is about giving to others and being with family. It's a much better lesson than teaching them to covet material things and be greedy, in my opinion.


I'm definitely with you on that last bit, Marj! Moms need to realize other peoples' decision here is just that -- their decision. And neither way ruins kids one bit.

Had you considered how "Santa" might impact families with autistic kids?


Image via Fraser Waters/Flickr

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