by Lindsey Wegner, M.A., CCC-SLP
Raising children with autism can be very demanding
on an entire family. Children with autism often
require special attention and specific routines that
may be difficult for siblings within the family to follow
or understand. Parents often struggle with finding
enough hours in the day to devote to other children
in the family after attending to their child with special
needs. Siblings might feel forgotten or left out, and
may struggle with finding their place in the family.
It is important as a parent to be aware of feelings or responses to some possible stressful
situations siblings of a child with autism may encounter:
- Embarrassment with peers regarding their sibling
- Frustration when they are unable to engage with their sibling
- Being the target of aggressive behavior by their sibling
- Jealousy of their sibling’s time with parents
- Concern for their parents’ stress and grief
- Concern over the future of their sibling and family dynamics
Once parents are aware that a sibling is struggling, they may be able to help their child
through stressful situations by the suggestions below:
Explaining Autism – Children need to understand what is happening around them.
It is important to explain to siblings early on what autism is and make sure to
do it often. This information will change and become more in-depth as children
get older and are able to understand more. Keep in mind what is important to
children as they grow. For example, when they are small, they are more aware
about themselves. As they grow, they will become more concerned about what
others think about them and their family.
- Forming Bonds – The relationship siblings form between each other is often
lifelong and important. Due to the nature of this disorder, it can be difficult for
children, as well as adults, to form satisfying relationships with a brother or sister
diagnosed with autism. However, there are strategies to help engage siblings
with their brother or sister that has autism. These skills include making sure they
have their attention, giving simple instructions, and encouraging “good” play or
Me Time – It is also very important to give each sibling a time to feel special.
Families should set aside some special time in their schedules to recognize each
child as an individual. Families can also do things separately. Choose different
activities to do with each of your children that appeals to them as individuals.
Support – Parents may want to encourage their children to interact with other
families who are experiencing the same family dynamics. This may help siblings
to realize they are not alone and see firsthand how other children cope with
different struggles within the family.
Every family faces different challenges and has their own unique way of handling
situations. What works best for one family may not work at all for another family.
Remember to keep communication open with all family members and take time to make
each one feel special.