Parents with a child on the Autistic Spectrum need to help their child however they can. But they also need to attend to their other children’s needs and nurture the sibling relationship. This is often a challenge.
Younger siblings are sometimes frightened, confused, and in some cases may even be in danger, if aggression is one of the behavioral concerns of the child with autism. A younger child might not understand that their sibling has trouble with being touched, especially without warning or may be sensitive to excess noise or lights.
Older siblings often have a better understanding, but they may be jealous of the extra attention their younger sibling with autism receives, and may feel compelled to take on a care giving role themselves making it harder for them to just be regular kids. Some may become jealous and rebel. Even when they understand themselves, it may be difficult for them to explain that their brother or sister needs to experience the world a bit differently than others, and that patience and compassion is required in order to keep the peace in the household.
Balancing the needs of multiple children
Any parent that has more than one child will soon discover that each is unique. They have different interests, and require different levels of attention at different times. In a family that includes a child with autism, this is especially true. Each child deserves to have some dedicated time that is just for them where they can interact with one or both parents without any “rivalry” getting in the way.
Explaining the needs of one child to the other
Depending on a child’s personality, abilities, and challenges each will have different needs, but all need to have an opportunity to bond with their parents. Many children without ASD can grasp this concept and will understand that some things they might enjoy would make their sibling with ASD uncomfortable. The child with ASD needs the simplest and most straightforward explanation. It is their brother or sister’s turn and they will have their turn as well. Make it a set rule, and keep it consistent.
When a child with autism is working on an individualized plan with Reaching Milestones, we are often able to help parents find the best way to explain according to their child’s specific needs.
One on one time
It is important that one on one time with other kids is quality time. Many parents like to take these opportunities to explore any interests that their child with autism would not enjoy, such as activities with a lot of sensory stimuli, like laser tag, amusement park rides, or a concert. During this time, parents can extend an open invitation for children to express their feelings and concerns if desired. Being there, and taking an active interest in that child in that moment is what is most important. When a child does want to talk about their sibling, conversations should be open and honest and be conducted at a level that the child can understand.
Finding the time for a child with autism and a child without autism
Usually, a child with autism will already get individual attention from parents, especially if they are participating in an educational program. Not every moment needs to be educational however. If the child likes a certain kind of music, parents can listen with them. They can make a point to learn about topics of interest to their child with autism and encourage conversations.
Having support from friends and family is important, and that may mean asking others for help outright. Part of the goal of treatment for ASD is to improve communication skills, and often parents need to work on these skills as well
Depending on the challenges and abilities of the child with autism there may be several opportunities for children to have comparable privileges. For example, if there are two kids not on the spectrum, and one that has autism parents can allow each to choose the main course that will be served with dinner on a designated day of the week or month. This sends a message to all family members that each holds an important place in the family.
Family activities and outings to engage each child
The relationships between immediate family members are some of the most important in both childhood and adulthood. A University of Illinois researcher notes that both parents and sibling relationships have a considerable influence on a child’s social and emotional development. While parents typically reinforce appropriate behavior in formal settings, siblings are often the ones to set an example in informal settings.
Good activities for families that have a child with autism include special low sensory movie screenings at local theaters, trips to the park or the beach when crowds are minimal, or even art and science museum exhibits during off-peak hours. Families can enjoy activities at home too, such as watching a movie or favorite show together, playing games where everyone understands the rules or an adapted version of them, engaging in art and craft projects, or taking on outdoor chores together such as raking leaves. These types of activities have individual as well as cooperative elements as well as independent ones. This encourages interaction, but falls short of demanding it. If one child is unable to embrace the activity, it usually doesn’t erase the opportunity for anyone else.