As more and more children are getting diagnosed with autism, many parents have the same question, “how do we help our other children understand?” It can be difficult for children who have siblings with autism as well. The good news is, there are steps parents can take to help everyone form a stronger and more understanding dynamic.
Explaining Autism to Siblings
When parents have one child diagnosed with autism, it is important that they don’t try to “hide” the diagnosis from other children. By explaining autism to the other children in the family, these children can better understand their siblings with autsim.
This will make it easier for these siblings to have stronger bonds and better relationships with their siblings. It will also help your typically-developing children understand certain behaviors that your child with autism may display.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when explaining autism to children:
- Give all of your children accurate information.
- Explain your child with autism’s diagnosis in a clear but kind manner that does not demean or ostracize your child.
- Find out what your other children already know, which for older children may mean asking them if they know what autism is.
- Talk to your other children about actions or behaviors they may have noticed in your child with autism, such as the way they talk or play.
- Use language and concepts that your children will understand so as to not confuse them. Use this opportunity to explain why your child with autism may act differently than other kids.
- Be prepared to explain the concept to your children several times, it may be complex and difficult for kids to understand, especially depending on their age.
While as a parent, you may find the prospect of explaining autism to your children a daunting experience—many parents find the more open and honest they are with their children, the easier the discussion will be. The more your kids know, the easier it will be for them to form the best relationships possible with their siblings.
Making Special Time for Siblings of Children with Autism
In addition to taking time to talk to your children without autism about this disorder, it is important to make special time for them as well. In many situations, children with autism get more attention, or a different type of attention than their siblings do—and this can be confusing to many kids.
Spending one-on-one time with your typically developing children ensures that they still feel special and that their feelings are met. You want to make sure that all of your children feel as though their thoughts and feelings matter. Making this special time will help boost your child’s confidence and curate a sense of belonging in the family.
It’s so important to help your children with autism and your children without autism as special as possible, even if they need different types of attention. Plus, when children feel special and heard, it can help them gain the confidence they need to have a better relationship with their sibling.
Here are some tips on creating special time for the siblings of your child with autism:
- Set aside regular time for your typically developing children every day. Even if its not the same amount of time you spend with your child with autism helping them with certain tasks, it’s important that you set aside this time for your other children as well. This can be a few minutes together in the morning, making dinner together at night or reading stories together before bed.
- If your child without autism wants to tell you or show you something, do your best to make time to give them your undivided attention, even if it’s only for a moment. Making your child feel seen and heard is a great way to create balance and fairness in the home.
- Try to find a trusted respite caregiver or babysitter to help look after you child with autism on a regular basis—this way you can spend more one-on-one time with your other children without your attention needing to be divided—even parents with the best intentions can accidentally place more attention on the needs of their child with autism, so getting help can be a great way to make sure every child has the unique type of attention that they need.
It’s not always about making big, grand gestures, but instead about the little things and taking small steps and making a concerted effort to balance your attention between all of your children.
Finding Ways For Children with Autism and Their Siblings to Spend Fun Time Together
Managing the relationship between children with autism and children without autism can sometimes be a challenge. In general, most children with autism have positive feelings towards their siblings, but sometimes these sibling dynamics could improve, especially if your child with autism has challenges with social communication.
It can also be challenging for your child without autism to want to spend time with their sibling with autism, if there are communication complications.
So, how do you foster a better relationship between these siblings?
One of the easiest ways to do this is to find games or activities that everyone can participate in and have fun in. This may be playing certain video games, sports or doing something like puzzles. Finding that common ground activity can serve as a foundation for their quality time together.
Managing Siblings’ Negative Feelings
Just like with any sibling relationship, chances are, there are going to be negative feelings from time-to-time. While adjusting to their sibling’s autism, it is not uncommon for your other kids to harbor some negative or complicated feelings.
It is normal for siblings to feel jealous of the amount of time that their parents spend with their siblings, but there are other potential negative feelings that can arise as well. This may include:
- Feeling frustrated if their sibling with autism doesn’t want to play with them.
- Feeling discouraged if they believe they are treated differently by their parents.
- Feeling protective or upset with other kids if their sibling gets made fun of.
- Feeling embarrassed by people’s questions or unwanted attention while out in public.
- Feelings of concern or resentment over the perceived notion that they will have to care for their siblings when they are older.
These are all common and understandable feelings for siblings to have. Parents may want to address these negative feelings head-on to prevent additional negative feelings from forming, or they may consider taking their children to a specialist who works with children.
There are other things that parents can do on a day-to-day basis such as acknowledging your child’s feelings when they emerge. You should agree that certain things such as dealing with a sibling who doesn’t know how to share toys can be frustrating. However, you should always talk to your child about their feelings and the situation in a non-judgmental way.
Your child should feel heard but also see an example of you as a parent reserving judgment towards your child with autism. Frustrated feelings are acceptable, while judgmental ones are not. To help foster a better dialogue, make sure to share your own feelings so your child can see that this is normal and that sharing is a positive thing.
Encouraging A Support Network Outside Your Family
Your family can be a great resource for your children, especially if they have siblings who have autism. However, friendships outside the family can help your child feel as though they are more than just the sibling of a child with autism. There are both autism family support groups and sibling support groups available as resources.
If you feel as though your child is struggling in their relationship with their sibling with autism, it is always a smart idea to reach out and get outside assistance from others who can act as a support system. Having a sibling with autism can be a beautiful and rewarding experience, but it can also come with challenges. The best thing parents of these individuals can do is to be caring and supportive for all of their children as they navigate these waters together as a family.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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