Supporting Your Other Children
Siblings of children with autism also need support as they will likely face situations that their friends with typically developing siblings won’t experience. When talking to your child or teen, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings without judgment. Help your child to understand that any feelings they have toward their sibling or their own position in the family are neither good or bad—they’re just feelings, and all feelings are normal. Encourage them to join a sibling support group that will enable them to share these feelings with others who are in a similar situation.
In order to foster acceptance and understanding, it is important for parents to inform children of their brother or sister’s condition and explain what it means to have an autism spectrum disorder. Even though a child may understand that their sibling has autism, it may be a source of stress for them.
Several factors can contribute to stress in a sibling of an individual with autism, including:
- Feeling embarrassment around peers
- Experiencing jealousy about the amount of time parents spend with their brother or sister and the amount of money spent on the child with autism
- Feeling frustration over not being able to engage or the difficulty of building a relationship with their brother or sister
- Being the target of aggressive behavior by their sibling with autism
- Attempting to compensate for the deficits of their brother or sister
- Being concerned about parents’ stress and grief
- Being concerned about their role in future caregiving for their sibling
- Being worried about their own chances of having a child with autism
- Feeling guilty because they don’t live with the particular challenges their sibling with autism lives with
Studies show that siblings of children with autism develop valuable skills that their peers may not. These include empathy, maturity, independence and enhanced problem solving skills.
ASF has partnered with Els for Autism on a program called “Sam’s Sibs Stick Together.” Samantha Els, sister to Ben Els, leads a regular webinar that features new scientific findings together with insight from siblings of all ages on how autism affects their own life.
To learn more about Sam’s Sibs, click here.
Support for Younger Children
Having a sibling who has autism can be difficult for younger children to understand. Children in preschool and the lower elementary school grades often have questions about why their siblings act in certain ways, or why their siblings may not be able to do things that they can do.
Often children in the lower grades may actually ask questions that they know the answers to, simply because they are trying to start a dialogue. It is important for parents to answer their children’s questions in simple, easy-to-understand, non-threatening language.
Support for Teens
Being an adolescent with a sibling who has autism can be challenging in ways parents do not understand. Many adolescents are concerned with the way their peers view them, and may be embarrassed about their sibling, or their sibling’s behavior. Parents should remind their adolescents of their sibling’s unique abilities and positive attributes, and help adolescents to come up with answers to any questions peers may have.