Monday, December 21, 2015

Dealing With Santa

This time of year is filled with joy and anticipation of visits from Santa and his reindeer.  In North America we cling to the methodology of Santa Claus with an iron fist.  He's in commercials, he's on soda pop cans, he's at the mall, and tune in to ABC Family or just about any of the dozen's of children networks found on television and you'll see dozens of specials with Santa.  Santa is involved in saving puppies, stopping Jack Frost, and even having a day off.  He's everywhere!  Children usually from the age of about two or three until anywhere between eight and ten cling to the idea that Santa is coming.  It seems like most children around eight to ten begin to figure out that Santa can't go around the world in one night, and that it's odd how much Santa's handwriting looks like mom and dads.  It's that time when families usually sit down together and talk about the legend of Santa Claus and in our case how Santa's spirit of giving in honor of Jesus' birth has been passed from parent to parent.  It can be a sad time, or a joyful time when parents can no longer spend Christmas Eve late planting presents around the tree.  But what about the person who has Intellectual Disabilities?  The person with ID is often regulated by psychologist to an age range of 0-6 years of age for the rest of their lives.  Many of them never stop believing or arrive at the questions their peers may come to.  How do we as professionals deal with Santa Claus?

It's not an easy for professionals.  We are constantly reminded, often by surveyors and others, that we should ensure activities and events are "age appropriate."  It is not really "age appropriate" for Santa to visit a group home of say six forty-something year old men.  But, if you've even been to a Christmas party with people who have diagnosis of ID, then you've seen them respond to the arrival of Santa.  It is like the magic of childhood never leaves.  They scream, get excited, tell him what they want for Christmas and often receive presents already arranged by staff.  To be blunt, it can be a crazy time and fun time!

As professionals, we have to make decisions everyday.  Those of us who work in the ICF programs with the IDTeam to help the person we're serving make the best decisions for his or her life know how tough decisions can be.  We help people decide how much money to spend, when to get a job, if they can take college classes, how long they will be in high school, what medications they will take, what goals they will train on, and so on.  We spend a great amount of time in the ICF setting deciding people's lives all while striving to encourage their independence.  So ultimately with Santa we have a decision to make.  We can tell the person we serve that there is no Santa.  We can tell them the stories of Santa and how he was a real person.  We can tell them that the people who show up to parties are simply carrying on the spirit of Santa.  We can if the IDTeam feels that is important, but in the big scheme of things how important is truth about Santa to the well being of the person who has Intellectual Disabilities?

Maybe it's okay to sit back for one little party each year and let the person believe.  Maybe we should look to that psychological assessment and hold the psychologist to their assessments - if they say 0-6 years of age, then that's the age someone would believe in Santa.  Why not let it be?  We are usually talking about one party a year where the person gets excited, believes that Santa has arrived for the party, and wants to get a present from Santa or even talk to him!  Out of 365 days a year, will a couple of days of Santa really throw the person with an ID diagnosis into a tailspin?  It's not likely to happen.   So, unless there is some sound reason, based on the individual's needs, it's okay to let the party roll, let Santa visit, let everyone have fun and believe.  It's not going to hurt anyone.....and to tell the truth, I've been to a few of those parties where I'm pretty sure the beard was real and it makes me wonder during those moments too!

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