Living With Autism (Siblings)

Once a child is diagnosed with ASD everything changes. It invariably will lead to a shift in priorities within the family unit. Most obvious will be changes in how time and money will be spent. Relationships and responsibilities will never be the same again.

The key to successfully managing these changes is in recognising and accepting that these changes are inevitable.

In this section we will first look at how the presence of an autistic child in a family effects siblings. At this point it must be said that generally cope well with the experience of having an autistic brother or sister. However, this does not mean that the siblings of an autistic child are free from the special challenges inherent in their circumstances.

The sibling of an autistic child may experience any numbers of the following stresses in their daily lives.

  • Jealousy regarding the extra attention given to the autistic child
  • Feeling/sharing the parents’ grief
  • Competing with the autistic child for the parents’ attention/affection
  • Embarrassment at the hand of peers
  • Frustration at their inability to connect with the autistic brother/sister
  • Worry having having to be the care-giver role for the autistic sibling in the future

There are several strategies than can be adopted to help siblings of an autistic child cope with with the change in circumstances. These include

  • Understanding Autism - experts agree that parents must help their ‘normal’ children understand autism. This must be done as soon as possible. It must also be done often and couched in term that are appropriate to the sibling at their particular stage of development.
  • Engagement/ Bonding - siblings are encouraged to bond with the autistic child. This can be done by teaching them simple skills that will enable them to engage the autistic child in play. There are also special teaching skills that can be taught to siblings that will help strengthen their bond with the autistic child.
  • Special Time - parents must regularly schedule specific times that is meant for children who do not have to ASD. This is to satisfy their need to feel special, too.

Generally, siblings cope well with the experience of having an autistic brother or sister. However, this cannot be taken for granted. Employing the suggested strategies will make things significantly more manageable.