Autism is a neurological disorder that can have a significant impact on the child’s family due to the impairments in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and the restricted and repetitive behavior that characterize this disorder. There are many resources available for both children with autism and their families, but often times the siblings of an autistic child might feel overlooked. It can be extremely confusing for a sibling of an autistic child to understand their brother or sister’s limitations, and at times it can be frustrating. If you are a parent of a child with autism, it is important for you to make time to allow their siblings to express themselves and their frustrations.
Here are some tips on how to talk to your child about their experiences with their sibling who has autism:
- Make sure you dedicate time to talk to them. When a family has a child with autism, it can be easy to allow your autistic child to consume a vast majority of your time. Their siblings most likely know that there is something different about their brother or sister that requires more time and attention, but it can be frustrating to feel that they are getting all of the attention. It is really important to have one on one time with each child so they don’t feel that they are not as important.
- Explain autism to your child in a way they can understand. Often times, parents don’t know how to talk to their other children about their autistic child. It can be emotional and uncomfortable for parents, but it is very important for their siblings to have some understanding of why their brother or sister behaves differently than they do. If it becomes something that is not ever talked about, it can lead to feelings of resentment towards their autistic sibling because they do not fully understand their difficulties. It can also lead to resentment towards parents for having different standards for their autistic child. Talking openly and honestly about autism in a way kids can understand can help their siblings to feel more at ease about their siblings’ behavior, and can help them to feel more comfortable knowing what is going on.
- Allow your child to express their feelings. Having a sibling with autism, especially when they are close in age, can be really tough. Peers can be mean, and parents often put a lot of pressure on their siblings without even realizing it. They tend to be held to a higher level of maturity, and are expected to help out in ways that their peers are not expected to. Siblings of children with autism can often feel that their problems or feelings are less important, and that their parents do not have the time or energy to attend to them fully. It is important for them to feel that they can vent. It might also be helpful to for some children to meet with a therapist in order to further discuss and address these issues.
It is really important to be able to talk about autism with all of your children. Being able to talk openly about it helps children to understand and fell more at ease with their autistic sibling and their difficulties.
Written by Jessica Garcia, M.A.