Siblings of Autistic Children.  Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information.  www.brighttots.com
Siblings of Autistic Children
For siblings of children with autism living with a brother or sister on the autism spectrum adds a unique bond and many
extraordinary incidents to the relationship. When a child in the family has autism, it affects the whole family. Though limited
research has been done, a child’s response to growing up with a sibling with autism is swayed by many aspects such as age,
temperament, personality, birth order, gender, parental approach and role modeling, and resources available. Certainly, parents
have little control over many of these factors.

Siblings of children with autism have a special connection with each other which is usually life long. As a parent of a child with
autism, you can accurately motivate and support positive relationships for siblings. Parents may need to cope with their own
thoughts and feelings before they can effectively share information with siblings. Some family structures include single parents,
multi-generational households, and households with other significant circumstances including more than one member with a
disability. Each family has its own beliefs, values, and needs. But regardless of family arrangement, all members of the family
should be supportive towards siblings coping with a brother or sister on the autism spectrum.

Siblings Coping With Autism

Communication and play can be difficult between siblings when one has autism. Often the sibling without the autism is asked to
presume, or may on their own feel obligated to assume, the role of caretaker. These issues should be addressed by informing the
sibling of the characteristics in autism, offering them assistance and teaching them tactics for handling autistic behaviors.
Research shows that siblings often do not understand or have misconceptions about the definition and cause of their brother or
sister’s disorder. Additionally, it has been revealed that parents often misjudged siblings’ comprehension about their brother or
sister’s disorder.

For younger siblings of autistic children, one of the first reality checks usually comes when their older brother or sister won't
play. The child on the autism spectrum may seem unresponsive or have a meltdown when the sibling tries to interact. Children
may show their anxiety through withdrawal or through inappropriate behaviors. Siblings may be timid to ask questions due to
not knowing what to ask or out of fear of hurting the parent.

During childhood siblings understand autism in terms of separated behaviors that are specific, observable and real (i.e.,
understanding is based on what the sibling sees rather than on reason). The sibling will notice differences between self and
brother or sister but expects a typical sibling interaction and relationship. The sibling may be fearful of unpredictable behaviors
(e.g., fearful for own safety, fear possessions will be taken or destroyed). Depending on the sibling’s developmental stage or
level of understanding, his or her concerns are likely to focus on the cause of their brother or sister’s disorder, their brother or
sister’s thoughts and feelings, whether or not he or she will get better, what is expected of them as a sibling, treatment and
support, and what the future holds for everyone in the family.

Positive Outcomes Learned From Autistic Siblings

Typical siblings of children with autism often express there are positive results from growing up with an autistic child such as
learning patience, tolerance and compassion, and having opportunities to handle difficult situations. These opportunities also
teach them confidence when facing other difficult challenges. Research found that siblings without disabilities viewed their
relationship with their brother or sister with autism as positive when:

•        They had an understanding of the sibling’s disability.
•        They had well developed coping abilities.
•        They experienced positive responses from parents and peers toward the sibling with autism.

Parents should support the sibling of a child with autism to find ways in which they can relate or share an interest with the
autistic child. That can be something very simple such as singing a favorite song or playing a tickling game. The siblings can
bond with one another and show affection by playing and laughing together.

Parents must help prepare siblings of autistic children for possible reactions from others toward their brother or sister with
autism. Make sure the sibling has facts about autism spectrum disorders. Remarkably, a lot of these typical siblings grow up to
become more outspoken about special needs. They don’t mind answering questions about some of the weird and bizarre
behaviors. Remember parents are important models of behavior. Help siblings learn ways to deal with and manage their
emotions. The "typically developing" siblings of autistic children are, in fact, the furthest thing from typical. Often, they are
wiser and more mature than their actual age.

Siblings of Autistic Children and Negative Experiences

Some siblings of children with autism have negative experiences when their brother or sister has autism. Anxiety, anger,
jealousy, embarrassment, loss, and loneliness are all emotions that children will likely experience. Because of the nature of autism
features there are obstacles to the sibling relationship that can cause additional tension. Siblings will generally have negative
feelings some might never relate or want to connect with their autistic siblings but the good news is that typical siblings often
turn out to be more compassionate and thoughtful than average. These siblings have seen what it's like to have difficult moments
in life.

Some autistic children are aggressive, which can be scary and dangerous, especially for younger children. Parents are not able
to watch over their children every second of everyday. Some of the behaviors may be pulling the sibling’s hair, biting, striking,
chocking, and other inappropriate violent actions.

It's common for siblings of a child with autism to feel humiliated by their autistic brother or sister's behavior in public, or to be
hesitant to invite friends home. That can be tough because the sibling may feel uncomfortable about the autistic behaviors.
Adding to these feelings is the fact that children with autism have no abnormal facial features.

Typical children with an autistic sibling face numerous challenges: parental responsibility; a feeling of isolation from the rest of
their family; confusion, fear, anger and embarrassment about their autistic sibling. Families and each member can be both
strengthened and strained from these circumstances. Parents need to acknowledge and communicate only to their healthy
children that they realize what they are going through and that negative feelings are normal.

Additional Influential Situations for Typical Siblings

•        Type and severity of the child’s disorder
•        Number of children in the family
•        Age differences between siblings
•        Family’s child-rearing practices
•        Family’s lifestyle
•        Other stressful conditions existing in the family
•        Parental/family coping styles

Parents with autistic children should set aside time alone with their typical children every week. Alone time with the sibling can
be done in different ways such as shopping or watching a movie together. The important thing is to schedule definite “alone”
time with a parent which the sibling can depend on. Make sure to explain treatments available and future probabilities that affect
the child with autism.

Siblings of a children with autism can better understand and accept the alterations and allowances made for the brother or sister
with autism as they mature. Be careful not to underestimate the potential of the child with autism. Make each child’s
responsibilities and allowances consistent and dependent on capability.

Many families make a major effort to praise and reward the child with autism for each step of progress. This same effort should
be considered for the siblings. Self-esteem is connected to positive acknowledgment from parents. Remember to celebrate
everyone’s success as special.

Parents can make the responsibilities appropriate to the age of the typical and autistic siblings. Parents should inform to the
typical child that while it’s great to care about their brother or sister, they are still children as well. That kind of message
confirms the parent’s love and eases the burden of caretaker.

Siblings are likely to spend more time with the child in their family who has autism than any one else, other than the mother or
primary caregiver. In addition, because the sibling relationship is the longest lasting relationship in the family, sibling issues are
lifelong concerns and change during their lifetime.
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Siblings of Autistic Children
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