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Supporting Siblings of Children with Autism

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Siblings of children with autism require additional support and education around their brother or sister’s diagnosis to help avoid emotions like jealousy, anxiety, embarrassment, loss, or loneliness. In fact, research has shown that with the right education and coping strategies, siblings of children with autism learn to be patient, tolerant, and better able to handle difficult situations [1]. To help your children understand and embrace having a brother or sister on the autism spectrum, we’ve compiled some suggestions that can strengthen your family’s bond and minimize stressors.

Talk about Autism with your Children

Talk to your children about autism early and often. They may be nervous about asking questions, so be sure to initiate the conversation whenever you feel it’s necessary. Remember to use age-appropriate vocabulary and explanations as they grow.

Young children may be worried about catching autism from their sibling or wonder why they’re exhibiting unusual behaviors. Something as simple as “Suzie doesn’t know how to talk in the same way as you,” can help them better understand their sibling. Adolescent children may worry about their responsibility for caring for their sibling or have questions about their sibling’s future. Having open and honest discussions around these topics can ease their anxiety and help them continue to learn more about autism.

Foster Positive Relationships

Your child with autism may not play in a conventional way, so equip your other children with the skills to successfully interact with their brother or sister. Teaching them how to get their sibling’s attention, give simple instructions, or choose an appropriate activity can help siblings strengthen their relationship.

If your child with autism pushes, bites, or displays other aggressive behavior, teach siblings how to deal with these behaviors – it will usually include asking an adult for help. Giving siblings some proven strategies will help them feel more comfortable interacting with their brother or sister.

Give Them a Safe Space

Most siblings share in the responsibility of their brother or sister with autism, but be careful not to depend on them too much, especially at a young age. Respect your children’s need to have some time away from their sibling with autism. Create a safe space for them to retreat to so they can process their emotions.

Do Special Things with Them

Every child wants to have individualized attention from their parents, so carve out some time to spend with your child who does not have autism. If you don’t have the stamina or energy to give siblings the same amount of attention as you give your child with autism, that’s okay – not everything has to be equal. All that matters is that your child has some time they can spend with you one-on-one. It can be as simple as 10 minutes each night at bedtime, an hour each Saturday morning, or whatever works for your schedule.

Use Community Resources

It’s important for siblings to have experiences where the focus is not on their brother or sister. Although it may be hard to ask for help, look into respite services or other community programs. It’s natural to get overwhelmed by the demands of caring for a child with autism, and these services can give your family time to recharge.

Another benefit of attending community programs is the opportunity for your children to meet other siblings of children with autism. Knowing they’re not alone can give siblings an outlet to express their emotions and feel accepted by others who share a similar background.

Trumpet Behavioral Health is committed to helping children with autism and their families live life to the fullest. Contact us to learn more about how we can support your family.

[1] McHale, S.M., Sloan, J., & Simeonsson, R.J. (1986). Sibling relationships of children with autistic, mentally retarded, and nonhandicapped brothers and sisters. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 665-674.