My child with autism has a typically-developing older sister. She’s fairly quirky, (a story for another time) but gets along well with others, and hasn’t the challenges her brother has. During the early years of our family, our daughter often had to wait to have her needs met. Family resources went to her brother first. She learned to be patient and take care of herself, while we gave time and attention to our son. She did, however, share her hurt feelings when there was a shift during a particular time of upheaval. This was when our son got moved to a new school. She noticed that I didn’t come in to volunteer in her classroom like I had done before. My focus on him left her wanting and hurting. Many families report that siblings of children with autism often experience feelings of neglect.
If you see signs of your child’s siblings hurting, there are some ideas to support them:
- Information – Share children’s books on autism with siblings. Have discussions. They need to have some information too.
- Let them speak their mind – They may say things that surprise you, but when they feel heard and valued, that will lead to positive feelings and behavior.
- Special time – Make a point to have special time with each sibling. Get a sitter if needed. It doesn’t have to be a big block of time. Just connect with them.
- Strive to be fair – Everyone in the house can participate at the level of their ability. Families working together will create unity.
- Have fun – Enjoy things when you can. Under stress, it can be hard to see the good things that may be happening around you, but I encourage you to look for that. Enjoy your children, because they grow up too fast.
- Support Groups – You may find a Sibling Support Group to be helpful. See if there are any in your area.
When our daughter was in high school, there was a boy in her class who had a lot of difficulty. He blurted out frequently, his social skills were poor, and he had much trouble getting along with students and teachers. My daughter described to me how the other students teased him, or excluded him from activities. When I asked how she treated him, she said she couldn’t be mean to him, because he was just like her brother, only older. It was then that I realized the years of living with a sibling with autism provided the unexpected benefit of helping her to develop tenderness toward those with disabilities. This is one of my daughter’s best qualities.