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Santa Claus in the ASD household

The store is moved, and two thirds of it is on the shelves; the computer that died (which was ancient) has been replaced with a computer that's less ancient, and it's now sitting on the new countertop in said store; I've finished contract negotiations for something upcoming in future (about which I'll speak more when things are completely firm), and I've been working at catching up on the writing I lost to the move and the convention.

I still have outstanding reading (not books, not reviews, but pre-pubbed things I really want to read), which I hope to catch up on in the week to follow.

Because it's heading into that time of year, I want to talk about Santa Claus in our ASD household.

Santa Claus is one of those magical memories of early childhood; it's an act, a play, an annual daydream. I understand that for many children and many families, Santa Claus is part of what makes the holiday special.

We had a few discussions about Santa Claus in my oldest son's early life--and we decided that in our house, there would be no Santa. Our reasons for it were pretty simple: Santa Claus is a lie. There are reasons for invoking that particular lie--but they're not reasons my oldest would have understood; what he would have clearly seen and known was that we'd lied to him. We'd told him that Santa Claus existed, when we knew, in fact, that he didn't. We would pretend to be Santa.

I think he would have enjoyed it, for what it's worth. I think he would have enjoyed the mystery and the desire to catch Santa in the act; I think he would have enjoyed the idea of someone sneaking into the house to leave presents.

But I think he would have also been very, very unhappy when the truth--as it always does, because it's some small part of coming-of-age--got out. Telling him that we were lying to him because it was a game wouldn't have worked because, in the way of small children everywhere, he would have argued that Santa did exist because his parents had told him so.

In his universe, it would have eroded his trust in us. It would have added an element of doubt and confusion that we felt would make things more difficult for him; he needed to believe that we were explaining the world as it actually was when he asked for explanations.

However, the question of Santa Claus did arise in grade one. The kids in his class were, of course, talking about Christmas, presents, and what they wanted from Santa. They probably did this in junior and senior kindergarten as well, but in the classroom environment of that time, he didn't pick up on it; with the grade one Teacher, he became slowly comfortable enough that he could. The other children absolutely insisted Santa Claus existed, and he came home to ask me about it.

So. I didn't want him to run back to school and insist that Santa did not, in fact, exist, but I didn't want to put myself in the position of agreeing, for the reasons mentioned above.

What I eventually said (because I'd been thinking about it for years) was this:

Santa Claus is a story we tell our children. It's not a lie, but like stories--The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was one of the few books he liked as a small child--it's not factual. It's meant to evoke excitement and anticipation; it's meant to be a happy thing.

But, he said, one of the girls in his class insisted that Santa Claus really existed--her parents had told her so, and she absolutely believed them. This, of course, made sense to my son; he believed his own parents, after all. Why did her parents say this if it wasn't the truth?

I didn't want him to feel any scorn or derision; I didn't want him to be outraged by the idea that the parents were involved in an elaborate hoax.

"Because they love the story. It's a story they were told as children. It's a story they believed as children, and when your classmates have children of their own, they're likely to tell their own children the same story, for the same reason. Santa Claus doesn't exist, except as part of that story, but it's a happy story, and people want to share some of that happiness."

"But the children believe in him." (He called his classmates the "children" for a very long time.)

"Yes. Yes, they do."

There was a pause while he digested this. He finally said, "But it's okay to believe in Santa Claus?"

I said, "Yes. We can't tell you he exists in the real world, but yes--it's okay to believe it if you want."

And he said, "I think I'd like to believe it, then."

It was a very odd conversation, but in hindsight, I'm happy with it.

Comments

( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
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mythusmage
Dec. 2nd, 2010 06:29 am (UTC)
There is a simpler answer to the question, why did the girl's parents say Santa Claus is real? Because they were afraid of disappointing their daughter.
msagara
Dec. 3rd, 2010 06:54 am (UTC)
There is a simpler answer to the question, why did the girl's parents say Santa Claus is real? Because they were afraid of disappointing their daughter.

I like this answer, but the immediate question that would come out of it would be: But why would that be disappointing? Because in his mind, she wouldn't believe Santa were Real if her parents hadn't said so, so if her parents hadn't said so, there'd be no disappointment.

(no subject) - mythusmage - Dec. 3rd, 2010 09:13 am (UTC) - Expand
_ocelott_
Dec. 2nd, 2010 06:46 am (UTC)
Oh, that's a beautiful Santa chat. Like you, and for very similar reasons, we chose to tell our children from the beginning that Santa wasn't real, which became really difficult for our daughter when, at four years old, the rest of the world (including my mother-in-law) told her the opposite. Balancing whether Mom or Nana was lying to her was difficult for her, especially considering the lie was pretty and magical.
msagara
Dec. 3rd, 2010 06:55 am (UTC)
Balancing whether Mom or Nana was lying to her was difficult for her, especially considering the lie was pretty and magical.

Yes. My mother was fine with it (sort of).
bluelittlegirl
Dec. 2nd, 2010 07:14 am (UTC)
That was simply lovely. Thank you for sharing it.

Incidentally, I finally got my hands on "Chaos," and I couldn't put it down. I love Kaylin and the world you've created so very much. I am anxiously awaiting next (Is it "Ruins," as I've heard?) as well as for hardcover editions (someday, maybe?). Your books reside on my special bookcase with all of my best friend books. Thank you.
msagara
Dec. 3rd, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
Incidentally, I finally got my hands on "Chaos," and I couldn't put it down. I love Kaylin and the world you've created so very much. I am anxiously awaiting next (Is it "Ruins," as I've heard?) as well as for hardcover editions (someday, maybe?). Your books reside on my special bookcase with all of my best friend books. Thank you.

And thank you :). Cast in Ruin is the title of the next book. I'm working on Cast in... (Danger is the provisional title, but I don't love it, so I'm still trying to come up with something different), but Ruin is 2011's Cast novel. I'm not the one who chooses format, so while I would love someday to see the books in hardcover, I'm not sure it will happen any time soon.
ksappho
Dec. 2nd, 2010 07:55 am (UTC)
Santa Claus
I love the way you chose to deal with the Santa issue. I was discussing the same situation with a friend the other day. We were both of the opinion that in addition to the nostalgic aspect of passing on the Santa story, and the use of Santa as a means of trying to get kids to behave, that perhaps Santa also serves as a buffer between parents and their childrens' expectations regarding gifts. Sanat gets all the "gimme pressure" and if the kid is disappointed, Santa takes the rap.
lyssabits
Dec. 2nd, 2010 08:00 am (UTC)
Santa Claus is something I've wrestled with when thinking about what to tell my own kid when he's old enough. I still haven't decided. Left to my own devices, I'd simply not teach my kid about Santa. But there is a lot of societal pressure to do so that I'm not sure is worth over-coming.

I don't recall it being a big deal in my house as a kid, and frankly I'd rather the emphasis of Christmas be on giving gifts to people as an expression of your love for them, rather than on the ph4t l3wt you'll get from this person you don't know and can't properly thank. However I imagine it will be a big problem if I choose to go the no-Santa route since my mother in law STILL GIVES GIFTS FROM SANTA. Her kids are all (well) over the legal drinking age in California, why are we still playing along with this?
msagara
Dec. 3rd, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
However I imagine it will be a big problem if I choose to go the no-Santa route since my mother in law STILL GIVES GIFTS FROM SANTA. Her kids are all (well) over the legal drinking age in California, why are we still playing along with this?

It's sentimental, I think; it harkens back to a time when things were magical and the kids were excited about Santa. I remember being one of those kids; we didn't have advent calendars, but we made construction paper chains and taped them to the walls and we could cut one link for each day that had passed.

My mother will sometimes say something's from Santa, and I think that's why.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Dec. 8th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
mizkit
Dec. 2nd, 2010 08:15 am (UTC)
That's an absolutely beautiful conversation. <3
dweomeroflight
Dec. 2nd, 2010 10:32 am (UTC)
This was a beautiful story :)

I'm racking my brains trying to remember how my Autistic brother dealt with Santa. I am only two years older than him and I believed in Santa for a long time. I don't think that he did though but I can't remember what my Mum said to him about Santa. I will have to ask her :P
kuangning
Dec. 2nd, 2010 10:41 am (UTC)
That's beautiful. I think it means even more that he would decide to believe in Santa Claus even knowing you couldn't/wouldn't tell him Santa was factual -- that's faith. If you hadn't refused to tell the story as if it were truth, he would never have had the chance, and the choice, to believe it anyway.
amber_n_teal
Dec. 3rd, 2010 12:05 am (UTC)
*this*
mtlawson
Dec. 2nd, 2010 12:32 pm (UTC)
I like that answer. Given your family situation, that makes perfect sense to have handled it that way.
sdn
Dec. 2nd, 2010 12:59 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. It is easier for Jewish kids -- we always knew Santa wasn't real. I know at least one person who got in trouble for telling her (non-Jewish) classmates that "Santa is your parents."
msagara
Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:00 am (UTC)
I know at least one person who got in trouble for telling her (non-Jewish) classmates that "Santa is your parents."

I really wanted to avoid his doing this. It only became a problem in grade one, because in grade one he actually started to pay attention to some of what the other kids said. But I think he sometimes thought other children were like space aliens; he didn't expect to understand them.
(Deleted comment)
joycemocha
Dec. 2nd, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
I like this perspective as well.
(no subject) - msagara - Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:01 am (UTC) - Expand
filkerdave
Dec. 2nd, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
That's a great conversation!
beccastareyes
Dec. 2nd, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
I'll have to ask my mother about it. Since I wasn't diagnosed until middle school and my little brother (who has autism) was the youngest, it meant that by the time he was born, Santa was already in the house, and that he knew about Santa by the time he was diagnosed. I also remember he was told 'the truth about Santa' late -- partly because he was the youngest, not just the autism -- and that there was an issue of him not 'spoiling' people like his second cousins. (I think Mom did go with the 'pretend to act out the story' angle, but I'd have to ask her.)

It does remind me that my little brother, when he was a kid, was horrible about keeping secrets. One year Dad took us out to buy Christmas presents for each other -- my sister and I were old enough to be allowed to wander the mall alone, so Dad could help Ben -- and within the ten-minute car ride home, Ben had let on that my gift involved Pokémon and origami. To no one's surprise, it was a Pokémon origami book. (It was a nice, thoughtful present -- Ben and I are video game buddies and origami was a hobby of mine in middle school. I just found it funny that Ben was so excited that he found this gift that he couldn't keep it from me.)
amergina
Dec. 2nd, 2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
What a great talk with your son!

Santa wasn't all that big a deal in my house, either... but mostly because my dad is eastern Catholic (think Orthodox in ritual, but with added Pope) and St. Nicholas was... well, St. Nicholas. A bishop. A guy with a beard, yes. A guy who gave gifts to people in his town, yes. But the jolly red-suited guy who flies about the world? No.

So, I learned that gifts came from people who loved me because they loved me. Which, I think, worked out well.
joycemocha
Dec. 2nd, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
I love that conversation. I wish I'd been able to have that level of conversation with my son when he was that age, but his inability to have that sort of conversation then was more of a factor in my belief that he is actually High Functioning Autistic rather than Asperger's (He's in his 20s now and was running at the leading edge of the diagnosis in our area).

OTOH, what we did do was play the Santa Game, and at the same age, we smuggled presents in our luggage when we went to Florida over the Christmas holidays (flying home on Christmas Day).

I was able to have the same sort of discussion with him about the Teacher Game, though.
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