Supporting Siblings of Kids on the Spectrum
As parents, it's easy to lose sight of how an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis affects the family unit as a whole and understanding how these new experiences and challenges impact the siblings of kids on the spectrum ensures they feel empowered and supported throughout this new journey too.
So what are some of the experiences of kids with siblings on the spectrum?
- They may have feelings of loneliness or resentment, often because of the amount of time and energy parents must devote to the child on the autism spectrum
- They may experience confusion, distress or embarrassment at the way in which autism manifests itself in the affected sibling, e.g. a disinterest in collaborative play, or their sibling's public behaviour
- They may feel as though they're missing out on some of the benefits of sibling relationships, such as the growth of self identity, social skills, companionship and mutual support
- Frustration towards their sibling with ASD, particularly if that sibling exhibits aggressive or provocative behaviours
- Guilt about embracing their own abilities and successes
- Fears about the future and who will care for their sibling in the long-term
BUT!!! Compared to others, people with a sibling on the autism spectrum tend to:
- Have more positive self-concepts and awareness
- Show greater social competence and develop independence at an earlier age
- Exhibit qualities such as tolerance, patience and compassion, with a greater tendency to accept people as they are and avoid judging others
- Develop altruism, sensitivity and have a strong sense of duty and responsibility and kindness
What are some strategies to support kids with siblings on the spectrum?
- Ensure your family's communication is open, informed and inclusive and that your child is well-informed about the nature of autism and how it affects their sibling
- Encourage kids with a sibling on the autism spectrum to share their feelings and concerns with their parents or guardian
- Ensure you show minimal favouritism, including setting aside dedicated time to spend with each child
- Facilitate opportunities for all children in the family to engage in shared activities
- Explain to the siblings that their brother's or sister's diagnosis is just a small part of their life and it doesn't define them.
- Engage with social supports in the community to help your child better understand triggers and regulative strategies for their sibling with Autism. You can do this by involving your child in a sibling support group or program or you may also choose to take part in a family support group and/or family therapy
Where can I get more information and resources about supporting siblings of kids on the spectrum?
- The Raising Children Network offers great advice on how to explain ASD to kids
- Siblings Australia provide information on what siblings need to grow up feeling strong and secure
- Check out Autism Awareness Australia's short film What Are You Doing? below, which teaches kids about acceptance and understanding ASD