There can be no doubt that raising a child on the Autism spectrum will create a family dynamic that doesn’t seem “typical.” When much of the focus is directed toward the child with special needs, certain unique family challenges can arise, particularly with siblings.
Siblings of children with Autism are more susceptible to feelings of not seeming prioritized, frustration over communication struggles with the sibling with ASD, stress from their sibling’s aggression or tantrums, or perhaps feelings of embarrassment.
It is important to start educating your children as soon as possible about what Autism is and what challenges to expect. Keeping your language age appropriate and further educating them as they get older will help this process. For instance, if a sibling is very young, you can start by simply stating, “your brother has a hard time talking and knowing how to play with others.” At early ages it is also important to emphasize the fact that it is not a disease they can “catch.” As they get older you can begin to explain the genetics of it and further details.
When a child is educated on what their sibling with ASD struggles with they can more easily overcome barriers of forming a relationship. Children can be taught strategies on how to play with their sibling with ASD and how to give them appropriate praise and support. The more your children know, the more they will be equipped to know how to talk about their sibling with special needs to their peers, be a support for their sibling, and be a strong ally for their sibling.
Since praise and affirmation is so crucial to children with ASD, it is important to remember to continually give your other children the same level of praise for their achievements as well. This positive recognition helps to avoid any sense of “special treatment” or “favorites.” Positive regard is necessary for any child to build self-esteem if there are special needs or not.
It is also important to individualize activities for your children and for your family. There are times where your children need to feel like they aren’t being held back because of their siblings’ challenges. If your child with ASD simply can’t handle going to a play or to a basketball game, allow your other children to go with another guardian every now and then. You can also make sure each child has a set aside time to do an activity they love to do throughout the week.
Be sure to look into resources in your area. You can often find sibling support groups where your children can connect with other children who have siblings on the Autism spectrum. It is important that your children don’t feel like they are alone in their experience.
Raising a child with ASD is a unique experience that can create unique challenges for a family. However, with the proper education, communication, and attention for each child, you can achieve the right balance of support your family needs.