Tips For Supporting Siblings of Autistic Children
BY DYAN ROBSON, AND NEXT COMES L
Photo © lifewithjess/Twenty20
Aug 1, 2019
I’m tired of some of the narratives I read online about autism families.
For instance, if you Google supporting siblings of autistic children, you’ll read countless articles that paint the autistic child as some kind of burden to all the members of their family including their siblings. And frankly, that’s kind of messed up.
Then other times you’ll read articles that make the sibling out to be some kind of superhero, like how their autistic sibling made them more compassionate, patient and so on.
Sure there could be some truth to that, but maybe their personality is at play here too. You can see how difficult it is to discern what the causing factor might be. Not that it really matters anyway because the bottom line is your kid is compassionate and caring, so what more could you ask for?
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Then you’ll also come across tips about how to best support these siblings and, honestly, the tips will feel generic.
I mean these tips could apply to families that have multiple children, even when disabilities aren’t present. Spend time with your child one-on-one, listen to their concerns, encourage closer relationships — all things you should probably be doing anyway.
But let’s be realistic here: sometimes your other children will notice that they don’t have extra meetings with teachers at school like their sibling does.
And sometimes they will complain about having to be dragged to another appointment for their sibling.
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Or your other children will struggle to understand why they can’t go to the park right now until we help their sibling manage their anxiety about going outside.
And yes, they’ll complain about something not being fair, like most kids do, autistic sibling or not.
So how can we truly support these siblings?
Talk openly about autism
Well, one of the most important things you can do is talk openly about autism in your house. Don’t paint it as some negative burden, threatening to ruin your family or marriage. Your kids will pick up on that and will only see autism as a burden if you treat it that way yourself. You wouldn’t talk negatively about your children in front of them, would you? The same rule of thumb applies when you are talking about autism.
Celebrate everyone's differences and achievements
The best way to go about being positive and open about autism in your house is to embrace the differences — both strengths and weaknesses — of all members in the family. Celebrate what makes each member unique, and work together as a team to support every member in the household much like you would work together to keep the house clean or do chores.
Be proud of accomplishments and milestones that each family member achieves, and don’t leave someone out if their achievements might be tiny or insignificant in the eyes of others. Each member in your family is worth celebrating.
Avoid placing blame on autism diagnosis
Another way to support your non-autistic child is to avoid placing blame. Never ever use the diagnosis of the autistic child as an excuse for why their sibling can’t do a certain thing or attend a specific event. That’s probably the quickest way to sabotage your children’s relationships between each other anyway.
Have realistic expectations
Also, be realistic about the expectations you place on your children. Are you placing unrealistic demands and responsibilities on them simply because their brother or sister is autistic? Or would you ask them to do these things regardless?
Another tip is to include everyone. Remember that team mentality I mentioned above? Well, it’s important to make sure everyone feels like they’re included. Everyone in your family should feel as if their opinion matters and that their voice is heard.
And when you’re trying to support or teach your autistic child a new skill? Work on it together as a family. For example, say you are teaching your child deep breathing strategies to help them manage their anxiety. Why not get everyone in your family involved and practice those breathing techniques together?
You’ll all benefit from learning the coping strategy anyway, right?
Finally, don’t overthink it. Just treat all of your children with respect. It’s the best way for them to learn to be respectful to each other. Remember, children will model what they see so give them something positive to model.
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