Why I told my Autistic Daughter There is no Santa

I love the magic of Christmas. I love the way it changes people and they think about others much more. Charities often make more money in December than the rest of the year and children sing carols and cheerful songs at school. Although it is very commercial it can be a real time for families to come together and children can have an excitement and anticipation as they look forward to a special day.

So why would I ruin all that by telling my sweet blue eyed daughter that there really is no such person as Santa?

Firstly I am not advocating this is right for every child. My daughter has autism so I chose to explain there is no such person as Santa for the following reasons:

1. Her literal thinking was causing her so much distress about Santa.

Books, TV programmes and all her friends at school talked about Santa coming down the chimney. We don’t have a chimney and no made up story of magic keys or flying through windows could change the fact that even the song talks about Santa being stuck up the chimney! She took Santa’s grotto as literal too so became very distressed and confused that Santa could be in the middle of the shopping mall, at her school party AND in the North Pole making presents all at the same time? Why did some Santa’s wear glasses and others didn’t? Why would some be tall and thin while others were short and tubby?

There is no enjoyment in the make believe of a story when your child sees everything in black and white and will not ‘play along’ just for the sake of it.

2. Her anxiety over all things Santa was stopping her sleeping.

The very thought that a stranger would enter her house while she was asleep utterly horrified her. Even though the whole story of him leaving gifts for her should have eased that anxiety she was worrying over how Santa would carry everything, wether his reindeer would get too tired or even if she would be forgotten (cheers for that one Peppa Pig!) The very mention of Santa was not exciting my child or making her suddenly want to be on the ‘nice list’, it was in fact causing her to stay awake at night worrying and making her jump every time the door bell rung.

I could not continue to see her so nervous and anxious over something that was meant to be a joyous and wonderful occasion.

3. The social expectations around Santa were all too much for her.

Ok so I know she never had to go and see Santa in his grotto anywhere but when he arrived at her school fair or party she found the whole social aspect very upsetting. Having spent years trying to get her to understand basic social rules such as we don’t talk to strangers and we certainly never sit on other people’s knees all of a sudden she watched in horror as every other child she knew broke all of these social rules just because the ‘stranger’ was dressed in a red suit. Her autism makes breaking any sort of rule horrifying and very distressing so Santa became linked with people doing very strange and confusing things indeed.

4. Her defensiveness and love for her brother was more important that any belief in Santa.

This was the crux for me and the reason I found myself sitting with my daughter on her bed while she cried begging me to tell her Santa was not real. You see my daughter has a brother who has complex needs. He can not speak and has a long list of diagnosis. Part of that means he often has very challenging behaviour for medical and developmental reasons. Her brother had just had a very difficult weekend where he had caused hundreds of pounds of damage to things in the house. He had killed her full tank of tropical fish by pouring bubble bath into the water, yet she still loved him fiercely. So when someone heard about her brother’s behaviour and happened to tell her he would be on Santa’s naughty list and would not get anything for Christmas she hated Santa more than she has ever hated anyone ever before.

So I had to tell her.

Telling my young daughter there is no such person as Santa has been the most magical thing I could have done for her. All of a sudden everything now makes sense to her. She can now reason in her mind how ‘santa’ can be in the shopping centre, the local school and somehow in the North Pole at the same time. She realised that the chimney stuff is all a story and there is no need to fear a stranger coming in her house while she is asleep. She understands why children suddenly want to sit on someone’s knee and tell them what they want for Christmas because the man in red is actually not a stranger to them at all. But most importantly of all she knows without a doubt that her brother will have gifts this year regardless of how challenging and difficult his behaviour can be.

I actually wish I had told her there is no such person as Santa earlier. Now she knows Santa is all made up she is happier and more excited about Christmas than she has ever been before.

She knows she is getting presents, she knows who buys them and she knows how we get them.

For some children with autism the magic of Christmas is actually in finally finding out Santa is not real at all.

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22 thoughts on “Why I told my Autistic Daughter There is no Santa

  1. That must have been a very difficult conversation for you to have with your daughter. At least now she knows that Santa is just somebody dressed up in a red suit. I hope she will have an easier christmas this year without having to worry if someone will come in to her house or not. She must have been so distressed bless her.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My mother who is not autistic used to worry as a child about the idea of a strange man entering her bedroom. She used to have her stocking hung on her (outside) bedroom door handle. My children have always wanted their stockings to be downstairs in the sitting room.

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  3. I wholeheartedly agree with this!
    My problem with “Santa” is it teaches children that gifts are given according to behaviour when the rest of the year we are talking about “grace” and God’s free gift of Jesus.
    We talk about St Nicholas & the example he set of caring for the poor and vulnerable.
    My husband – who is a priest – finds the legend of him slapping a heretic at a church council hilarious. Maybe skip that story…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi this is such a touching story, I’m so glad this lovely little girl can enjoy Christmas. My son has Autism, he is 12 and utterly loves everything about Christmas including Santa. Today at school he was told that Santa is not real. He looked so upset! He wanted me to reassure him, I hugged him and told him Christmas is full of all different types of magic and gently avoided the question, I know that the time has come to tell him the truth but it’s so close to Christmas and I’m terrified of breaking his hart. Any advice would be most appreciated

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree my daughter is ASD and was beliving in very scary thing wernt real. I had to make it black and white. She told me I was bad parent for telling her Santa? However she has slept proberly for the first time in months. Mental health and ASD is so important and being black and white saved my daughters mental health. Good mummy ✔❤🎁🎄😘

    Liked by 2 people

  6. thanks for being honest and writing this, the Santa tradition has become a bit of a taboo I think. None of us feel free to think or talk outside the box. My husband & I rocked the boat in our extended family by deciding not to buy into the tradition at all, right from the start as parents. We talk about St Nick setting an example of Christlike generosity and how the myth of Santa has evolved from that. And we have homemade stockings each, and a santa hat that we take it in trns to wear and ‘play the santa game’ tiptoeing into each others rooms (before bedtime, but still trying not to be spotted) to fill stockings. I honestly don’t think that any ‘christmas magic’ has been lost at all, and I can see how our decision to do it differently has helped us to keep Jesus at the heart of it all. Our biggest concern, our main deciding factor, was the thought of going about unravelling the untruths our kids would have learnt from us at the same time as expecting them to believe us when we say Jesus is real. As we have learnt now that two of our children are autistic we are so thankful we made that decision. It is hard for them if they have to unlearn things, hard to feel safe once they work out someone has lied (& a lie is a lie, no subtleties) – maybe if you can be brave & write your experience I should do the same…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I totally agree with this, not only for children with asd, but with children that struggle with the whole ‘Santa ‘ phenomenon. Sometimes it is better to tell your children the truth about things ,(with a little bending of the truth.) xx

    Liked by 2 people

  8. My autistic son doesn’t get Santa. We haven’t had a talk about his reality but he never wants to go and see him. He only likes one present and he hates unwrapping. It’s meant I’ve had to reevaluate how I do Christmas but it’s me that has to change my world view, not him. It’s taken me a while to realise this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have an autistic child also and tonight I have told him there is no santa for much the same reasons, he has been crying every evening when we are alone, saying he is so disappointed in himself and that he is not a nice person. I finally got to the bottom of his feelings over the last couple of days and we as a family decided that it would be better to tell him the truth. The relief on his face and in his actions this evening made it worth it, I now have my lovely little boy back who is just right the way he is. He is also 7 and I believe that this was absolutely the right thing to do. We tell the truth about everything and he is very literal so found aspects of the santa story hard to understand and the naughty and nice part was making him so so anxious that it was heartbreaking, he now is relaxed and looking forward to some lovely gifts and knows that they are here and he doesn’t have to worry about not being good enough for presents.

    Liked by 1 person

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