Autism is a difficult diagnosis for a child and impacts every aspect of his or her life. But it is not just that child who is affected. Suddenly, the family must redefine everything it is in order to support the child with the condition. Financial resources, attention and energy are all devoted to help the child with autism to be as independent and successful as possible. Because of this, there might not be a lot left over to do the normal parenting that all children need.
In addition to feeling that there is a lack of attention, the siblings of autistic children might also have difficulty dealing with the actual diagnosis. They might be angry or sad for the brother or sister with autism. Some children might also be embarrassed that they have a sibling who is different from everyone else. Negative feelings towards their brother or sister might lead to guilt for feeling that way in the first place. As the parents, helping siblings of kids with autism to cope with the changes the family faces is just as important as helping the child with autism.
Being empathetic and letting your child know that any feelings towards the sibling with autism are okay, will help alleviate the guilt they may feel for having them. In order to be able to discuss those feelings, it is important to keep the lines of conversation open so the child will feel comfortable letting you know when they are jealous, sad, or angry at the situation.
Also, by the child knowing that you care about the feelings being encountered, they will feel understood and valued. Although not all problems related to having an autistic sibling can be solved, discussion should occur about what changes are possible. Things such as spending individual time with parents or friends without the brother or sister with autism might give the child a break from feeling a certain way, and allow for the situation to be easier to deal with upon return.
In many ways, siblings of autistic children might be asked to take on more responsibilities than their peers. Helping with some of the physical aspects of a child with autism like safety in public places, hygiene issues and social interaction might all be placed on the shoulders of a sibling. Although the child might be more than willing to help and even want to, it is important to keep age in mind and make sure the demands placed on a child are realistic.
Finding respite care for the child with autism so that individual time can be spent with their siblings is necessary. Also, finding a support group in the area can allow your son or daughter to discuss the things in his or her life with people who understand and are going through similar things. It may be easier for them to talk to other kids instead of a parent who they are afraid to disappoint. This can be invaluable and another way for the child to know that what they are feeling is okay. Also, it will provide them a way to cope with being a sibling of an autistic child that parents or other friends will not be able to provide.
www.Time.com: Autistic Kids: The Sibling Problem By Amy Lennard Goehner
www.AutismSpeaks.org: Growing up with a sibling with autism