Guest post by Kristine Kenny, MSN, RN, CPN, CAS
Parents who are raising a child with ASD are aware that their whole family is affected by the child’s diagnosis. Each family system is unique but the consensus is that most parents have concerns about the stress and emotional tolls that their other children have to deal with on a daily basis. Common concerns include are they giving their other children enough love, attention and support.
Research states that there is little doubt that children raised with siblings with ASD have been influenced by that relationship in both positive and negative ways. It is also clear that families and each member can be both strengthened and stressed from this situation. Positive outcomes that siblings report are learning patience, tolerance, compassion and opportunities to handle difficult situations. Negative feelings reported were an increase in anxiety, anger, jealousy, embarrassment, loss and loneliness.
Siblings of Autistic Children: Common Concerns and Effective Support Strategies
The Organization for Autism Research indicates that the siblings of the child with ASD will face challenges similar to those that the parents encounter but at a time before they’ve developed appropriate coping strategies. As a result, they need support to ensure that they’re informed, respected and know how to be compassionate advocates for their siblings on the spectrum. This article will explore factors that have been found to help strengthen families and minimize stressors for the siblings along this journey.
- Ongoing developmentally appropriate communication
- Ongoing developmentally appropriate knowledge
- Parental attention
- Siblings involvement
- Connection with others
Acknowledgement of the fact that every family system is unique and individualized is key. Please note the following are supported suggestions from the research that has been done on this topic. They are guidelines for parents to consider and a way to help siblings cope with having a brother or sister with ASD.
Open, honest and age/developmental appropriate communication is needed for the siblings. As the parents cope and deal with things for the child with ASD, they should take the time to talk with the siblings about what is going on and why. Most importantly, it must be age appropriate and ongoing. You must consider that you are not going to talk to your adolescent child the same way you talk to your preschool child on the topic.
Developmentally appropriate knowledge
Knowledge is power at any age. Consider taking the time to educate the siblings using age appropriate education. There are many different books, websites and some TV shows that can assist you on this journey. Autism Speaks offers a sibling tool kit that can be downloaded free of charge. Children have many worries, just like their parents. It is important not to ignore this fact. A little bit of education about ASD at each age stage of the sibling will go a long way and add up over time. It is an ongoing form of empowerment for the sibling and will help decrease their anxiety about their brother or sister with ASD.
Siblings need parental attention that is consistent and individualized for each child’s unique makeup. Although splitting your time between your child with ASD and your other children can be overwhelming at first, making that special time to read a book or play a game with the siblings will be worth it. Siblings need to be able to count on some alone time with having their parent’s full attention. Life can get be chaotic and busy, but carving out at least 15 minutes a day for the siblings can be time well spent and an investment that will go a long way for both of you.
Although it is very important to help find ways for the siblings to connect with the child with ASD, reasonable expectations need to be considered. It is not the sibling’s responsibility to be there all the time for his or her sibling with ASD or to take on the role of caretaker. The sibling needs private time away from the child with the disability, just like parents do. Discussions need to stay open at each level of development for the sibling to avoid undue pressure or responsibility about their involvement.
In addition, many children with ASD can be destructive to their sibling’s toys or special things. They can also be aggressive and have other challenging behaviors. It is important for parents to provide a space for the siblings to keep their personal items safe and for the sibling to have a safe retreat if needed. Try to make efforts for other supports to help with the child with the disability to allow for this space.
Sibs Organization states that feeling isolated and that others don’t understand what siblings go through is very prevalent. They note that parents of disabled children would never be expected to go for years without ever talking to others parents who understand their situation and yet most siblings never get to talk to another adult sibling about their experiences until they are adults. As siblings are growing up, they need opportunities to feel that they are not alone and that others understand and share some of the same experiences as them. Look into local sibling support groups for your child or for your teenagers, check out the web for connections virtually.
Looking for more information, you’ll enjoy these:
- How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctors
- 5 Early Signs of Autism
- What to do When Your Child Receives An Autism Diagnosis
- How to Advocate for Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a Medical Setting
- Sensory Needs for a Child with ASD
Raising a child with ASD is challenging, making sure the siblings needs are taken care of and considered is extremely important too. Giving the family system including yourself some patience, understanding and guidance can go a long way. Take each step of the journey of raising a family with a child with a disability as it comes. Make sure to take care of your own physical and mental well- being so you can take care of your child with ASD and their siblings. These measures can help strengthen your unique family dynamics.
Kris is a mom of 3, one of whom has autism. She is a pediatric nurse, assistant nursing professor and author. When she has free time, she enjoys exercising, baking and binge watching TV series. Learn more about her at Autism Healthcare Books!
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