Supporting Siblings of Children with Autism
Siblings of children with autism require additional support and education around their brother or sister’s diagnosis to help avoid emotions like jealousy, anxiety, embarrassment, loss, or loneliness. In fact, research has shown that with the right education and coping strategies, siblings of children with autism learn to be patient, tolerant, and better able to handle difficult situations. To help your children understand and embrace having a brother or sister on the autism spectrum, we’ve compiled some suggestions that can strengthen your family’s bond and minimize stress.
Talk About Autism with your Children
Talk to your children about autism early and often. They may be nervous about asking questions, so be sure to initiate the conversation whenever you feel it’s necessary. Remember to use age-appropriate vocabulary and explanations as they grow. Young children may be worried about catching autism from their sibling or wonder why they’re exhibiting unusual behaviors. Something as simple as “Suzie doesn’t know how to talk in the same way as you,” can help them better understand their sibling. Adolescent children may worry about their responsibility for caring for their sibling or have questions about their sibling’s future. Having open and honest discussions around these topics can ease their anxiety and help them continue to learn more about autism.
Foster Positive Relationships
Your child with autism may not play in a conventional way, so equip your other children with the skills to successfully interact with their brother or sister. Teaching them how to get their sibling’s attention, give simple instructions, or choose an appropriate activity can help siblings strengthen their relationship.
If your child with autism pushes, bites, or displays other aggressive behavior, teach siblings how to deal with these behaviors – it will usually include asking an adult for help. Giving siblings some proven strategies will help them feel more comfortable interacting with their brother or sister.
Do Special Things with Them
Every child wants to have individualized attention from their parents, so carve out some time to spend with your child who does not have autism. If you don’t have the stamina or energy to give siblings the same amount of attention as you give your child with autism, that’s okay – not everything has to be equal. All that matters is that your child has some time they can spend with you one-on-one. It can be as simple as 10 minutes each night at bedtime, an hour each Sunday morning, or whatever works for your schedule.