Siblings of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are often overlooked. When a family unit has a child with ASD, other siblings that are considered neurotypical often get lost in the shuffle of all the appointments, therapies and extra time we as families need to spend with our children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Our neurotypical children often become more responsible at younger ages than their peers, they help care for their sibling on the spectrum and may feel a little overwhelmed by the entire process. They are often overprotective, but excellent nurturers that don't stand for anyone who bullies anyone.
They are often unique and energetic individuals who have incredibly large hearts and open minds. They are siblings of a child with differences. They learn acceptance and unconditional love at a very young age, and they learn to not only stand up for their siblings but anyone who needs an advocate, including themselves.
They are the best friends of their siblings and carry a strength beyond measure. Being a sibling of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder teaches them how to be more compassionate, more loving and much kinder individuals.
The siblings in a family with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, although very kind and compassionate, will often feel like they are doing a lot of work and not being recognized. When we look at our children with ASD, we celebrate different accomplishments.
We see every milestone, no matter how small, as a job well done and we celebrate. We spend a lot of time nurturing their relationships, focusing on their needs, and helping them through every day.
Even to a sibling, in some moments, this can cause resentment or anger. Sometimes, they feel like their sibling with Autism Spectrum Disorder is getting all the breaks, all the special things, and so much more of our time and attention.
The neurotypical siblings will know, logically, that it's not the case, but will feel as though they need some recognition, time, and special things as well. As they grow, they may ask a lot of questions about why their siblings with ASD get special clothing or time with a behavior interventionist. Even though they (don't want to have ASD) aren't living with ASD, the neurotypical siblings may still want some of the benefits.
When we as parents begin to notice that our neurotypical children are starting to act out or ask for more of our time and attention, we need to pay just as much attention to what they are asking of us. Most of the time, a good one-on-one conversation will reinforce that the needs of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder are very different, but sometimes that's just not enough.
There are a few things you can do to help your neurotypical child deal with their feelings and feel like they are an important part of the family.
Include them: Make sure to include them in the celebrations you have with your child with ASD. Have them help you celebrate, dance, cheer, and involve them in the process. Tell them why it's so important. Let them feel like they are a part of it. Let them know that without their help, you may not have seen the same results. Enforce that every win is their win too.
Take them on a 'date': Have one on one time with your child so they know they aren't forgotten. All the extra time and attention their sibling gets can be frustrating. Make plans with your child and stick to them.
Make their celebrations a big deal: If they come home with a perfect test score, show them how much it means to you! When you hear about how kind your child is, tell them how much respect they are getting from people in your community. Let them know that their accomplishments are just as significant!
Give them a break. Let them be human. Their role in our families is so very important. They are often the balance we need to make it through the day as parents. Let them know just how much that means to you.
When your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder gets a new team member or a new therapy, try to make sure your neurotypical child gets a little treat (of some sort). Even though they know that what their sibling are receiving is for their growth, it can still hurt that there isn't something special for them.
Give them space: Give them their own space that has nothing to do with their sibling. Make sure they are encouraged to take time alone, doing all the things they love. Encourage their unique abilities too, and spend time nurturing those.
Tell them you love them: Hug them as much as you can, and thank them for their understanding. Sometimes, a little reassurance that you see them is all they need to know you're paying attention.
The entire family dynamic is a tough one when you are living with a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At times, as parents, we get incredibly overwhelmed and wish we had some time to nurture ourselves. Our neurotypical children are feeling the same way.
They care just as much as you do, and in most cases, will have to deal with children at school that may have an unfavourable opinion of anyone with a different ability. Make sure your children know how much they mean to you, even in the smallest of ways. Sometimes, the break you give them will be the break you need to get through a day as well.