Can balance be achieved between the needs of the child with autism and their “typical” siblings?
“Typically developing” siblings of autistic children are usually wiser and more mature than their age would suggest. They have to face a myriad challenges: a feeling of isolation from the rest of their family and sometimes peers; confusion, fear, anger and embarrassment about their autistic sibling. And on top of all of it, guilt for having these feelings. The good side of this equation is typical siblings often turn out to be more compassionate and caring than average. As a parent how can you make sure that there is balance amongst siblings?
No matter what age or development stage the sibling is in make sure to explain autism. Whether it is an early childhood explanation of “is doing the best he can, and maybe in the future he’ll be able to learn to play with you in other ways, but right now this is what he can do.” or young adulthood what their sibling can do and how autism affects their siblings sensory input and social development.
Create a time just for the sibling
Set aside a time every week where it is just you or the other parent have one on one time away from the child with autism. Whether it is running an errand or finding a shared interest, make it their time with you. Make sure you keep current on the events and milestones in each child’s life. Make sure to acknowledge major events/ occurrences are acknowledged and celebrated with the same enthusiasm as the child with autism; for example riding a bike, writing their name.
Find a share interest for the siblings
Brainstorm with all your kids and find a common interest that the siblings can share. Whether it is a shared hobby, reading, playing a game they have made up together or a collection of an item. Encourage both to participate and let their bond strengthen.
Keep the lines of communication open
Listen to the typical children fears and concerns. Alleviate fears and also answer their questions. They are trying to understand autism, just like you. They are seeing from a different perspective and may enlighten you on what they see in their sibling. Make sure what you are explaining they can explain to their peers or other adults.
Encourage honesty and keep a sense of humor
Encourage your kids to explain what is happening if a friend or adult asks them. Most siblings of autistic children are very outspoken and will cheerfully answer questions or rise to their siblings defense.
Autism is a serious disorder and can be very trying on a family. The family will come to a place where they gain some perspective and when that happens it is important to regain a sense of humor and laugh about those moments that autism bring. Sharing laughter will bring the whole family together.
Growing up as the sibling of someone with autism can certainly be trying, most siblings cope very well. It is important to remember that while having a sibling with autism is a challenge to a child, it is not an insurmountable obstacle. Most children handle the challenge respond with love, grace and humor far beyond their years.