Autism Sibling Support

The demands associated with raising a child with autism affect the entire household every day. Due to the amount of time and energy required to meet the needs of a child with autism spectrum disorders, many parents feel that they simply don't have enough of these precious resources to spend with their other children. Siblings of children with autism often feel neglected or loved less than the child who is affected by the disorder. The following is intended to help these siblings draw on the support and strength needed to strike a happy, healthy balance within their unique family.

Siblings of children with autism crave recognition and acknowledgement of their feelings, all of which are valid responses to their situation. Just as parents need special encouragement and support, the other members in the family need to know that their place in the family is as integral and significant as everyone else's.

Common negative feelings that arise in these siblings are anger, anxiety, isolation, jealousy and embarrassment. They also often feel that they are somehow responsible for the well-being of their brother or sister with autism and force themselves into the role of a third parent. This self-issued responsibility may lead to resentment and animosity, both of which serve to further distance one sibling from the other. Parents are encouraged to talk with the unaffected siblings, providing gentle but firm reminders that their brother or sister is, while unique in many ways, just as in need of love and understanding as they are.

Children with autism: The needs of the Sibling

  • Have open, Honest, age appropriate communication - Stressed siblings of children with autism may express their negative feelings in ways that are inappropriate and distancing. If siblings hesitate to ask questions, parents should offer information willingly and honestly.
  • Inform the Sibling - Many siblings become anxious because they don't know what's actually happening. They may fear that they are the cause of the disorder or that they may get this disorder as well. Accurate, plainly delivered information can help dispel these beliefs.
  • Siblings need individualized attention too! – Children with Autism often receive overwhelming amounts of praise for small accomplishments because every tiny victory is a step in the right direction. Siblings see this and crave it as well in order to develop a strong sense of self-confidence and contentment. Spend some one-on-one time doing something special just for them.
  • Teach siblings skills to interact and be involved with the sibling with an autism spectrum disorder - When a sibling puts forth an effort to interact with his autistic brother or sister, it is important that his parents praise him and be patient with his progress. Teach the sibling to give appropriate instructions while playing as well as how to praise his autistic brother or sister for good behavior. This will reinforce the techniques the parents utilize every day.
  • Explain to siblings why their brother or sister is getting differential treatment - As siblings get older and more comfortable with their position, they begin to accept the fact that differences in care are necessary for people with autism. When they are young, however, it is necessary to explain the reasons for these differences on a regular basis. In addition, your child with autism should not be unreasonably omitted from the list of household duties as many are fully capable of helping.
  • Be a role model - Invite siblings to share their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative, and reciprocate with thoughts of your own. Be patient and understanding; acknowledge their feelings and emphasize honesty by opening up and being honest yourself.
  • Siblings need normal activities - While some families hesitate to ask for support from outside of the home, community resources can be very helpful in strengthening the bond between siblings and the rest of the family. It's important to use the resources available such as respite care services and other community programs that assist with families of those with disabilities. Most families would be overwhelmed without some breaks from the ongoing demands of caring for children with a disability. Siblings and parents need opportunities for activities where the focus of energy is not on the child with special needs.
  • Get support for siblings - Siblings of children with autism need to know that they are not the only people in their situation. Sibling support groups feature conversation and activity with other children in their position and give each the opportunity to discover new ways to cope with their lives at home.

Because every child is different, the impact on having a disabled brother or sister will affect every sibling differently. Fortunately, your role as the parent incorporates the power to strengthen and support the bond that your children have together. The information included here is meant to help parents of children with autism and other siblings understand and discover the best way to improve their family connections and enhance the lives as well as those of all their children.

Don't let Autism make you the exception, let it make you exceptional
Stuart Duncan