Submitted by: Amy Perez
Children with autism can experience the world with guidance and encouragement from both parents and siblings. This direction and inspiration can generate positions of exceptional demands. A heavy demand is not being able to find the time to conquer all the day’s tasks. The amount of time involved in engaging in the demands of a child with autism may permit parents minimal time for engaging with their other children.
It is not uncommon for parents to feel like they go above and beyond for their child with autism, yet lack in the effort department with responding to the needs of their other children. It is also not uncommon for parents to make specific sacrifices for their child with special needs, but feel less inclined to do similar acts for their other children. This can spark tension of various intensities between the child with autism and their siblings. The siblings may even harbor anger or resentment toward the family member with autism or even the parents.
The stress level may increase in all family members as a result. Not all children experience and respond to stressful situations in the same manner. However, parents may want to be aware of the origin and then appropriately respond in ways that can improve and increase the positive interactions between family members. Some origins for the siblings could include awkwardness around peers, being the recipient of aggressive behavior, frustration of not have sibling relationships similar to their peers, worry of parents stress and actions, and attempting to mask or compensate for the deficits of their family member with special needs.
Parents can choose several approaches to reduce the stress and promote a positive outcome for the siblings by acknowledging some needs of the siblings. Here are a few supportive tactics:
1. Communication is a two way street. Parents need to promote open and sincere lines of communication with their children to assist in share information that is appropriate and continuous. Through providing opportunities for the siblings to express their concerns and ask questions, parents are teaching their children appropriate approaches for addressing stressful issues.
2. Share time. Though time is a valuable resource to all family members, it is important that parents make time that is meant for every child in the family. Siblings need to receive that one on one time, share in the unique and special experiences with each parent. This “alone” time can aid in strengthening the bonds between each parent and child pairing.
3. Family activities. Parents should provide the sibling opportunities to participate in activities and events that do not center on the family member with special needs. Families can research available resources in the area that can assist in providing services that allow families to experience activities without the stress and exhaustion of constant monitoring of their child with special needs.
These are a few suggestive strategies. Numerous resources are available for parents to research, critique, and choose according to the needs of their individual families. Not all strategies will be beneficial to each participant, so it is important that the effort does not stop after the first failed attempt. It is an art to maneuver the dynamic connection between all the members of the family. There will be days when success runs high, and others when negativity dominates. Remember that part of the journey is learning from what did not work and working as a team to construct a positive family support plan.