When my older son Aaron with Asperger’s was young, I immersed myself in ever-evolving goals for him, including school, social skills, comprehension, extracurricular activities and his emotional development. The holiday season always presented such fun and excitement while planning for how to make our Hanukkah celebration meaningful. Our joy expanded when we had our second son Josh, who presented new complexities and made us think through how to make the holiday special for each of them. We wanted to enrich their relationship as brothers and our family traditions, while honoring Aaron’s needs balanced with Josh’s.
As a neurotypical, very energetic child, Josh loved noisy activities and events that could push Aaron’s sensitivities to sound or light into overdrive. Whether he was playing with noisy toys he received as gifts, enjoying loud exhibits at our local museum or mall often accompanied by live music, or begging to go to an IMAX movie, Josh plunged into experiences that could set Aaron’s sensory issues on edge (Aaron still remembers a very loud duckling game that fascinated Josh while haunting him). Aaron’s special interests such as exploring an art museum’s holiday exhibit or the Natural History Museum science hall for hours on end bored Josh endlessly. I found compromises like a foray to the knights in shining armor displays for Josh in between Aaron’s beloved tours of every painting in a gallery, while trying to ignore Josh plopping down on the seat by Aaron’s favorite painting and dramatically sighing for all to hear, “I’m soooo bored!”
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Are you one of the many parents raising a child with autism alongside a child who is not on the spectrum? We understand the complex challenges that arise in your situation, so we wanted to make sure there was a session just for you at our conference next month.
Join Allison Benedict from the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism on Friday, June 15th at 12:15pm for the session, “Addressing the Needs of Neurotypical Siblings”. Bringing a breadth of knowledge gained from being a licensed early intervention specialist and board certified behavior analyst, Allison will discuss research on negative and positive effects of having a sibling with ASD, evidence-based ways to have a better outcome, and how to educate neurotypical siblings on the diagnosis of autism, while supporting them for better adjustment.
What are the most commonly asked questions that come from parents concerned about the impact of an ASD diagnosis on their neurotypical child(ren)?
One of the first questions that parents ask is how to explain the diagnosis to their neurotypical children. They also want to know how to find a balance between supporting the needs of their child with autism while also being able to carve out time out with their neurotypical child(ren).
What is one of the positive effects of having a sibling with ASD?
There are many positive effects including greater empathy, compassion, understanding, kindness, and more positive interactions with others. Additionally, siblings tend to have higher self-esteem.
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Once upon a time, my husband and I were afraid to utter the word ‘autism.’ We thought that merely saying the word aloud would make autism a reality for our son, Jacob. Like many parents who suspect or learn their child has autism, we were in denial big time. After denial, we experienced a period of grief. But in time, we realized that whether Jacob had autism or not, our goal as parents was to help him reach his fullest potential and live the best life possible. That’s when we rolled up our sleeves and got busy.
Sharing the News: We began telling our families and friends about Jacob’s diagnosis. Some relatives had questions we couldn’t answer. Some friends wanted to help but we didn’t know how or what they could do. Yet whatever responses we got were almost a relief because they got us openly talking about autism—they got us over our fear. They got us ‘unstuck’ and focused us on beginning to build a support team.
Knowledge is Power: Two seconds after getting Jacob’s diagnosis, we realized that there was no instructional manual that came with it. We were on our own. Scary. My husband and I had zero experience with autism so we had to begin educating ourselves. We did online research, read articles, sought out parent-friendly websites and support groups, and started attending local autism workshops and Milestones’ conference. The one thing we soon stumbled upon was not knowing what information was trustworthy. Would some therapies offer false hope? Be a waste of money? Maybe even be harmful to Jacob? We quickly learned that we should focus on ‘evidence-based’ strategies and interventions only as these were backed by studies and reliable research.
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