How to Support Siblings of Children with Autism
Did you know that children who grow up with special needs siblings often end up being more accepting, caring, compassionate and independent individuals?
In fact, a study published in 2006 called, “The Adjustment of Non-Disabled Siblings of Children with Autism” found that siblings of children with autism were much more likely to have positive view of their behavior, intelligence, scholastic performance and anxiety.
But it will not happen unless proper care and attention is afforded to them. This can be very tough at times, when home-based autism services and additional teaching or therapy is centered on one child. It’s vital for parents to share their attention, encourage communication and find a balance that fits the family. There are many things parents can do to empower and support each of their children, such as:
Make Individual Time for Each Sibling
The most important support comes in the form of time and attention. The lack of these two things can leave children feeling neglected and overlooked. Thankfully, showing each one of your children that they are important is a simple task. It can be a fun activity you two do together or a special bedtime story. It can even just be parts of the day that you to watch TV, grocery shop or cook together and talk. Small (even 15-minute one-on-one sessions) will help each child feel valued and reinforce the idea that they are important and loved.
There may be different expectations from each child, but there should also be a clear set of rules that everyone is expected to follow. If you discourage a bad behavior (such as yelling and throwing toys) for one of your children, you should not let another get away with it. Don’t just accept “that’s how it is.” If there are any adjustments made for one child, it’s very important to explain why this is the case.
Talk to Them about Their Feelings
Negative feelings can build up in anyone, which is why it’s so important to keep lines of communication open. Having a brother with autism can be difficult for a child and cause them to build up feelings of concern, jealousy, anger, embarrassment, guilt and discouragement. Share your similar feelings with them and acknowledge their feelings even when it may be tough to hear. Be careful to communicate in a non-judgmental way and seek out opportunities and activities that will encourage them to express their feelings, such as drawing.
Allow Them to Make Decisions
Another way to counteract negative feelings and frustration is by getting children involved with planning and allowing them to help in decision-making processes. Whether it’s choosing what to eat for dinner or where to go play on a Saturday, involving them in these simple decisions can have a wonderful impact. It not only shows that you care and are listening to them, but that their opinion is important and matters.
Seek a Support Network
Friendship is a gift that lifts burdens. Friends can help children feel empowered and encouraged (not just a sibling of someone with autism), so it’s important to make time for these relationships to blossom. In addition, a support group can be largely beneficial for everyone—both parents and siblings. Joining a family support group or finding a sibling support group may be something worth trying.
If you are just in need of additional tools, be sure to look at the Organization for Autism Research’s “Autism Sibling Support” initiative and go to Autism Speaks to request A Sibling’s Guide to Autism.
If you have child with autism who is in need of extra support to overcome communication or learning challenges, we at ABC provide a wide range of autism therapy services, including ABA therapy.