Parenting a child with autism and children without autism can be a unique, and sometimes daunting, balance. You have to provide extra support for your child with autism and navigate the path of what is best for him, while also carving out time to ensure his brother’s and sister’s needs are met. Research shows that the vast majority of siblings to children with autism grow up to be more mature, compassionate and display a greater understanding of others, however that doesn’t mean their path to maturity is without bumps along the way.
Having a child with autism can be stressful and the numerous therapy sessions can be extremely time consuming, which reduces the amount of time available for your other children’s extracurricular activities. The struggle to find balance for the whole family is important to reduce feelings of jealousy and frustration.
Explaining autism to siblings
Your other children likely have some understanding of what autism is, but you should try to provide insight to help them understand their brother or sister’s perspective. For example, if your child with autism has self-stimulatory behavior, such as rocking or repeating noises, you can explain that they do these things to comfort themselves, just as a hug or rocking chair might be comforting to others. Siblings may have an easier time understanding their siblings “unusual” behaviors by relating them to their own emotions and behaviors.
Having frequent discussions about what autism is and how it affects your family is a good is a good idea, rather than waiting until you have all the answers or an ideal time to talk. Siblings may make assumptions about ASD that are incorrect. A few common misconceptions other children have is that you can spread ASD, like a cold, or they may think that they somehow caused their sibling’s ASD.
Time and attention management
Dividing your time and attention properly is a leading cause of frustration. Kids have a unique sense of fairness and often struggle to understand why a child with autism is given more one-on-one time, special toys or fewer responsibilities. Explain that although it may appear that their sibling with autism gets to play more, it is actually hard work for them. When appropriate you can enforce family rules that are the same and “fair” for all the children.
Finding ways to focus your time and attention on each of your children can stifle their feelings of jealousy . One-on-one time can make a big difference, but if you have a demanding schedule that makes it difficult, look for little ways to carve out some quality time. Simply running errands together, buying groceries or giving your child your undivided attention in the car can have a big impact. Terms of endearment and affection can go along way as well. Simply stating “I’m so proud of you” can mean a lot to your child.
Handling negative feelings
It is common for siblings to have negative thoughts and feelings about the way they are being treated while adjusting and attempting to understand their sibling’s ASD. Listen to your child’s feelings in a non-judgemental way and let them know you understand the way they are feeling. Collaborate together to find constructive ways for them to express their feelings and emotions, for example drawing or writing can be good outlets for their emotions.
It is common for siblings to feel overwhelmed trying to figure out what autism is, how to form a relationship with their sibling with autism, and how to share their parents. A family support group can help them work through their frustrations and realize they’re not alone. The Autism Society of Central Virginia is a great resource for finding autism support groups and meetings in Richmond. Talking to a professional, such as your pediatrician, counselor or psychologist can also provide reassurance to you and help manage all of your children’s feelings.