Children diagnosed with ASD who have siblings, particularly younger ones or those closer to their age, can take up more time and energy from their parents than their sibling would like. Children, especially siblings, tend to compete for attention from their parents or caregivers. The special attention that the child with ASD may require can cause their sibling to foster feelings of resentment towards their brother or sister. However, a sibling can also become very protecting of their special needs brother/sister and defend them against bullies and those who do not understand the disorder. There are numerous ways to help shape your children’s relationship to a more loving and supporting nature, rather than a more resentful one.
The first and most important thing you can do to build their sibling relationship is to explain the disorder to your child so that they have a real understanding of what their brother/sister may be going through. But before this it may be helpful to ask your child what they notice about the disorder from their sibling’s actions. For example, what they notice their sibling’s strengths and weaknesses are, why they think their sibling needs so much attention, etc.
For children who are younger, feel free to keep the explanations as simple as, “he hasn’t learned how to talk yet.” Older children, on the other hand, can learn some more intricate details about the causes and treatments that their sibling may be experiencing. It is important to let your child know ways in which they can be supportive and helpful towards their autistic sibling either at home or out in public. Also make sure to discuss how knowing this information makes them feel personally as they may need some time and/or space to process everything. You should continually follow up on any feelings or questions they may have about their sibling and autism to prevent any misunderstandings.
Research has shown that children who have siblings with autism are capable of having stronger than usual bonds. By doing your best to treat all of your children fairly and not necessarily granting your autistic child special treatment is an important part of building their sibling relationship. Partaking in activities as a family to help create that initial bond before letting them interact solely with one another is also helpful. Finding simple activities from blowing bubbles to watching movies to finger painting can all be useful activities to build sibling bonds. Though having a sibling on the autism spectrum may be difficult, overcoming challenges together can be very rewarding.
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