The parent-sibling relationship is crucial to the adjustment of typical siblings and their relationship with their sibling on the autism spectrum. Researchers have suggested that the disabled family member functions better when other family relationships such as the parent-typical sibling and the typical sibling-sibling with ASD relationships are strong.
Siblings can offer unique perspectives on autism, but they also may suffer adjustment and relationship issues when it comes to their sibling with ASD. Parents can help their typical children adjust by spending quality time with them and by building the typical siblings’ relationship with their sibling on the autism spectrum. This effort may, in turn, help your child with autism.
How do we attend to our typical children so they can feel special?
- Don’t always make your typical child the caretaker of your child with ASD. Communicate with them if and when they will ever have these responsibilities.
- In contrast, find a time when your typical sibling can enjoy doing something age-appropriate instead of always assuming more mature responsibilities.
- Find opportunities for you to spend one-on-one time with your typical children. Be aware of how important that quality time is to your typical children.
- Help them explain to their friends about their sibling with ASD. Give them words to say, but also validate their concerns, frustrations, and embarrassment.
- Provide a comfortable space where they can invite friends over.
- Allow your child to have possessions that they don’t have to share with their sibling with ASD that will be kept in a safe place. Similarly, set up a space in the home—like the typical sibling’s bedroom—that just belongs to him or her.
- Show your typical children that your child with ASD has consequences for negative behavior. Explain that you understand their frustrations. If you can, also explain what behaviors you are currently working on with your child with ASD.
- Introduce your typical child to other children with siblings with ASD. Sibshops, for instance, are an effective way your typical children can relate to and spend time with other siblings.
- Allow your typical child to engage in appropriate developmental activities, even if the child with ASD cannot.
- Occasionally, leave your child with ASD with a caretaker so that you can spend time with your typical child, or bring the caretaker along with your family on an outing, so you can focus on your spouse and typical child. (Be mindful that this could potentially be embarrassing for your typical child, so talk with them about it before you go.)
How do I help my child with ASD bond with siblings?
- Stress the gifts your child with ASD brings to the family.
- Expose your child with ASD to the hobbies and interests of your typical children. Try to develop some common interests. For example, find a way for all of your children to enjoy a soccer game or bake cookies.
- Work with your child with ASD on behaviors that may annoy your typical children. Explain to your typical children that you understand how they may become annoyed when your child with ASD engages in certain behaviors.
Autism’s affect on siblings
Find a Sibshop near you: Sibling Support
Autism Society of America: Article on Siblings
Siblings of children with autism carry special burdens
Sibling’s perspective on autism video: AutismSupportNetwork.com
Sibling Support Project Website
Understanding Brothers and Sisters on the Autism Spectrum: DVD available for purchase
Band, E. & Hecht. E. (2001). Autism through a sister’s eyes. Future Horizons.
Feiges, L. S. & Weiss, M. J. (2004). Sibling stories: Reflections on life with a brother or sister on the Autism Spectrum. Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Harris, S. L. & Glasberg, B. A. (2012). Siblings of children with autism: A guide for families. Woodbine House.
Peralta, S. (2002). All about my brother: An eight-year-old sister’s introduction to her brother who has autism. Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Bågenholm, A. & Gillberg, C. (1991). Psychosocial effects on siblings of children with autism and mental retardation: A population-based study. Journal of Mental Deficiency Research, 35, 291-307.
Goehner, A. M. Autistic kids: The sibling problem. Time Health Online Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1698128-3,00.html
Hastings, R. (2003). Behavioral adjustment of siblings of children with autism engaged in applied behavior analysis early intervention programs: The moderation role of social support. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(2).
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Kaminsky, L., & Dewey, D. (2002). Psychosocial adjustment in siblings of children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43(2), 225-232.
McHale, S., & Gamble, W. (1989). Sibling relationships of children with disabled and nondisabled brothers and sisters. Journal of Developmental Psychology 25(3).
McHale, S., Sloan, J., & Rune, J. (1986). Sibling relation children with autistic, mentally retarded, and non-handicapped brothers and sisters. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 16(4).
Orsmond, G., & Seltzer, M. (2007). Siblings of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders across the life course. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 13,313-320. Doi: 10.1002/mrdd.20171
Rodrigue, J., Geffken, G., & Morgan, S. (1993). Perceived competence and behavioral adjustment of siblings of children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23(4).