When you have a child with autism it can be easy for their siblings to feel like all your time is being spent on them. Even if they know their brother or sister needs that extra support, it can be difficult for them not to resent it a little.
How can I best support them?
If your son or daughter has a sibling with autism, the best thing you can do is to make sure that you make time for them. You can use this time to talk to your child about any difficulties they might be having, related to their sibling with autism or otherwise, but it might be better to concentrate on having fun and use it as a break from everyday issues. A little quality time can go a long way!
As well as spending time alone with you, siblings may also benefit from spending time away from the family as a whole. This could mean they spend the occasional evening or weekend away with friends or relatives. It could also mean finding a siblings group where they are surrounded not only by people with similar experiences but also trained professionals who can help them deal with any difficult emotions they might be experiencing.
The importance of including siblings
When it comes to discussions about your child with autism, try to include their sibling(s) where you can. It’s likely that they’re going to meet a lot of people involved in your child’s care, from social workers to speech and language therapists and others. Your son or daughter may have valuable insights into their sibling with autism’s life and may even want to be involved in meetings with professionals that you’re having, both in the family home and elsewhere.
It’s important that your son or daughter know and understand, as much as possible, about their sibling’s autism and the affect it can have on family life.
Dealing with difficult feelings
It’s important to be open with your son or daughter about their sibling and the difficulties they may face. Obviously this is very much down to the age and ability of your child without autism but it’s important to address these.
In particular you may need to talk about any behaviour they may find challenging. It’s important for them to realise that autism can have a real impact on behaviour; it’s not just their sibling being ‘naughty’.
If they have a problem or don’t feel they’re being treated fairly in comparison to their sibling with autism, encourage them to speak up. It may be that the issue can be solved by a simple conversation.
Spending time as a family
Finally, and it’s easy to forget sometimes, but your family is defined by all of its members and all of its ups and downs. While siblings will benefit from time alone with parents or away from the family entirely, make time to do things together too.
This doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive holiday to far off places, although that’s nice too, but it can be as simple as sitting down to watch a funny film together or having a meal together and talking about your day.
By spending time together and communicating to the best of everyone’s ability you’re giving your children and yourself the best chance possible to have a happy and included life.
Many charities across the UK also run services for siblings and there are also organisations, including Sibs, who cater specifically to siblings of children with a wide range of disabilities.