Holiday Myths and Autism

Matilda, my eldest daughter, turned 11 this weekend. So I guess it was no surprise when she pulled me aside recently to ask me a very important question:

“Is Santa Claus real, Mum?”

Holiday Myths and Autism -

As much as I suspected this question was coming, I was still taken by surprise. I’m sure I looked as uncomfortable as I felt as I looked around me for inspiration, stammered a little and desperately tried to collect my thoughts.

The image of a deer in headlights would pretty accurately describe how I looked in that moment.

I studied Matilda’s face, took a deep breathe and made my decision. I decided to be honest.

“No honey, he isn’t physically real.”

I waited with dread for her reply. Had I just dashed her dreams and shattered her trust in me?

She nodded her head and told me she had guessed as much but wanted to know for sure for when she had kids of her own. She then kissed my cheek and headed into school.

While I was relieved to have escaped immediate upset, I walked back to the car feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. You might think that’s a dramatic statement to make, but when you have kids with autism, maintaining the traditional holiday myths can be fraught with danger.

Holidays myths, such as those surrounding Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, are common place in our modern society. It’s funny how the majority of us perpetuate these myths with our own children, without prompting. We just pass the tradition and the myths down, from generation to generation.

In most cases, this is a fun, loving and special thing to do. However, when you have kids on the autism spectrum, these myths can take a different turn. Instead of being a positive sign of the holiday season, they can instead represent negatives for our kids.

Holidays Myths and Autism -

Here are a few issues surrounding holiday myths and autism:

  1. Kids with autism may not accept such a myth at all. Many kids on the spectrum are highly logical and critical, with exceptional attention to detail. The Santa myth, in particular, can be full of contradictions and present so many inconsistencies that they simply cannot accept it as truth.
  2. Kids with autism, once they learn the truth or if they refuse to buy into the myth in the first place, may blurt the truth out to others. While this can happen with any child, some kids on the spectrum feel the need to correct others if they think they are wrong. Others are incapable of lying, making it hard to keep the truth to themselves.
  3. Kids with autism may be hurt or distressed when they discover the truth. This is my greatest fear with my son in particular. He is rational and logical yet he has accepted this myth as truth. I do worry that he will feel betrayed when he inevitably discovers the truth behind the myth as he trusts me to always be honest with him.
  4. Kids with autism may believe in the myth longer than others and be the focus of ridicule from peers. While Matilda now knows the truth, Gilbert (as far as I know) still believes. As he is headed to high school next year, I hope he is not teased for his continued belief.

Despite these potential issues, I believe there is a place for holiday myths and autism. All kids deserve the chance to share in the wonder and magic of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other holiday myths.

However, we should take care when sharing these stories with our kids and understand they may not take to the traditional holiday myths in the ways we would expect.

I also feel that honesty is the best policy – if the myth is challenged or questioned by your autistic child, it may be best to explain the truth behind myth, rather than trying to prolong things.

One way to engage them in keeping the truth to themselves is to entrust them with the responsibility of keeping the myth alive for others. This can be a powerful argument, and one that has definitely worked so far for my daughter.

Where do you stand on holiday myths and autism?

Parenting Children with Special Needs

This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs blog hop where myself and other special needs bloggers share our thoughts on a set theme each month. This month’s theme is “conquering the holidays.” I’d love for you to check out all the other posts linked up for this month!

Surviving the Holidays with Special Needs | Natural Beach Living

Free Christmas Visual Schedule for Kids | Every Star is Different

Navigating Trauma and PTSD Over The Holidays | STEAM Powered Family

Holiday Myths & Autism | My Home Truths

Visual Christmas Schedule for Special Needs Kids | Life Over C’s

Surviving the Holidays with a Child with Anxiety | The Chaos and The Clutter

| B-Inspired Mama

Questions Special Needs Parents Face During the Holidays | This Outnumbered Mama

26 Holiday Survival Tips for Autism Families | And Next Comes L

The Year That I Made Santa Claus Cry | Kori at Home

| Parenting Chaos

Conquering the Holidays: They Don’t Need to be Perfect | 3 Dinosaurs

Why I Canceled Christmas: What You Need to Know about Surviving Holidays | Carrots Are Orange

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17 Responses

  1. Deborah says:

    No kids so not something I’ve had to deal with but that decision re when to tell kids the cold hard truth can be difficult. Of course so many kids now learn much earlier via friends and the online world probably makes it harder!
    Deborah recently posted..Two months until Christmas

  2. I remember asking the question of my parents and I was probably around 10. When the answer was something like ‘if you believe he still comes’ I stuck with that LOL…right until…no, I haven’t ever given up. It was awful though for me to hear of teachers (yes, teachers!!) deciding they could tell kids what was/wasnt true. It is a family decision in my opinion about those matters. Thank you for linking up and for your helpful post. Denyse

    • Kirsty says:

      Oh dear, that’s terrible to hear that some teachers have taken it upon themselves to tell kids the truth. I do believe it’s a family thing – I hope that didn’t cause too many lasting issues for the families involved 🙁

  3. Wow, you managed to keep up the magic of Christmas well! Pretty sure ours became aware around about 8.

  4. Given that it’s something I didn’t grow up with I’ve always wondered how kids in general deal with the fact that Santa isn’t real. I guess there’s no easy way of letting them know but I;d assume kids with ASD would logically come to the conclusion that Santa doesn’t exist. Helpful post!
    Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life recently posted..If we were having coffee 22 October 2016 #WeekendCoffeeShare

    • Kirsty says:

      This is what worries me about Gilbert. He is a rational, logical and curious boy so I’m surprised that he still believes (well, he’s never given me any reason to suspect he doesn’t). I’m most worried that I’ve done my job too well – i would hate to lose his trust over an issue like this 🙁

  5. I remember my son year 4 came home devastated that Santa was not real. I had been waiting for a day like this. We sat down and I said to him, ‘It may be true that Santa is a myth to make it more fun for children leading into Christmas.’
    He nodded and acknowledged that it was fun, but he still felt sad it was not true. When I asked him why, he said, ‘because there’ll be no more presents.’
    I said to him, “If you believe he’s real, then he’ll still bring you presents for Xmas.’
    He said, ‘Sweet!’ and off he went happy as can be.

  6. Alicia says:

    Yes I agree, always be truthful with them, or they will call you out as a phony and a liar lol. There is no fooling them.

  7. jess says:

    I’m pretty sure I believed for quite a while, and my big brother was the one who destroyed it for me….Never forgiven!

  8. Renae Eddy says:

    I love this! In our home we don’t do the Santa thing, except for with my youngest kiddo with autism who refuses to believe he’s pretend. My kiddos have always been afraid the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy so we always come up with alternative plans. This stuff is so important to understand about our kiddos.

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