Siblings share a bond that’s unique and special. They know each other like no one else does, and whether their relationship is good or bad, it has a large impact on who they become. Siblings of children with ASD are in a position that brings challenges from a young age, yet allows them to be powerful advocates for their brothers or sisters.
Having a child with ASD can be a challenge for the entire family. It can be especially difficult for siblings, who don’t have the coping strategies of adults. Sometimes, the behavior of the sibling with ASD can be embarrassing, distracting, or stressful. Without the right support, it’s easy for a neurotypical sibling to fall into patterns of acting out or withdrawing. On the other hand, these siblings may put themselves under pressure to be “good” so they don’t cause trouble for their parents, and they can end up feeling angry.
Sibling relationships are complicated. This is true in every family, but for siblings of those with ASD, there’s another level of complication. They must not only learn to cope with the needs of a family member with ASD, but they also must be prepared to potentially care for their sibling after the parents have gone. While the relationship with a sibling with ASD can be positive as well as negative, it should be acknowledged that it brings with it responsibilities that don’t exist in typical families. Some people may feel cheated of a “normal” sibling relationship. They may choose not to start a family of their own, because of their feelings about their sibling with ASD.
Neurotypical children need attention and support, too. Children with ASD require a great deal of parental attention, but parents must remember that their other children need them as well. It’s crucial for parents to set aside quality time focused on each child individually, regardless of their abilities.
Talking openly about the situation benefits the whole family. Parents should clearly explain the diagnosis and what it means, remaining open to listening to their children’s questions as well as feelings about what’s going on in the family. Speak in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and how families work together to support each other
There are some ways in which siblings of children with ASD benefit. Many people whose siblings have ASD report positive feelings about their experience with their siblings. There’s evidence that having a sibling with a disability can help a person to be more compassionate and empathetic, kinder, more tolerant, and more aware of the needs of others.
If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, The Stepping Stones Group is here to offer support, keeping you informed of opportunities and providing important support services.