Santa Claus and Special Needs Kids

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Santa Claus is a traditional figure during the festive season. But some special needs kids might not understand what he stands for. It's OK to say No Santa!

Santa is an age old tradition, celebrating the selfless giving that we characterize with Christmas.  While many people dislike Santa receiving credit for their tireless pursuit of the perfect toys, others find Santa offers an opportunity to teach about the joy of giving. I’ve always found myself wavering between these two camps each year, but we’ve celebrated Santa nonetheless. He brought a big, unwrapped gift for each child and filled their stockings with surprises, eliciting much excitement Christmas morning.  We visited him every year for pictures and shared their lists with eager hopefulness.

Santa Claus is a traditional figure during the festive season. But some special needs kids might not understand what he stands for. It's OK to say No Santa!

Santa Claus and my Special Needs Son

And when it came time to acknowledge to my older children that my husband and I were actually playing Santa, most of them took it in stride.  However, for my oldest son (diagnosed with Autism) our admission confused him.  He staunchly defended Santa’s existence at school, all the way through Elementary, largely because he didn’t believe I would lie to him.  Knowing this, I expected his response and was prepared. I explained to him that celebrating Santa is a tradition and the tradition is based on a historical figure.  This gave me an opening to research the history of Santa Claus and show him how it encourages anonymous gifting.  He was satisfied with this answer, but gave me something to think about, “What about the twins?  They won’t understand all this, Mom.”

Santa Claus and my Special Needs Twins

That set me back on my heels a bit.  His serious concern for their reactions gave me pause, he knows his sisters better than most.  My beautiful 4 ½ year old twin daughters have Autism, are largely nonverbal and are also developmentally delayed.  How would I explain all of this to them?  I imagined myself sitting down to have this conversation in 4-5 years (if I’m lucky) and the image in my mind was upsetting.  It’s unlikely they would believe me or worse, they would accuse me of lying.  Both of them are very literal and like their brother, uncomfortable with tall tales and exaggerations.  Is telling them that Santa is real breaking their trust?  Was I being disrespectful?

Santa Claus on the Shelf

I have to admit, that really stuck with me.  It forced me to consider the ramifications of introducing them to the Santa tradition at home.  While I recognize that Santa will always be a predominant figure in public, I’ve decided to limit his presence in our home from now on.  He will no longer be a mythical figure leaving presents under our tree.  From now on, he will only be acknowledged as a historical tradition.  While the magic and mystery of Santa Claus brought so much joy to my older children, he will have to relinquish his position on Christmas Day.  I have to respect that all of my children are different and deserve to feel comfortable in our home.  So, after careful consideration, I’ve decided to leave Santa on the shelf this Christmas.

About the Author

My name is Laura and I am a wife, mother of five, and homeschool teacher. I also consider myself a special needs advocate for my children. Navigating therapies and the IEP world is a part-time job it seems!  In my spare time, I blog about special needs parenting, homeschooling, and my creative endeavors.

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I wear many hats but my favourite and most colourful one is mom to the greatest special needs twins.


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