Supporting Your Other Children

A Parent's Guide to Autism

August 27, 2018

Parents of children with autism can be under tremendous stress. It may seem like there is never enough time to do everything that needs to be done. So much focus and attention is placed on the child with autism, that it is common for parents to have little time or energy left to focus on their other children.

Brothers and sisters of children with autism frequently face their own challenges. Much more may be expected from these siblings. They often need help understanding the emotional reactions they are experiencing as a result of the many changes occurring in their lives. This support is essential to their future well-being.

Some things your other children may be struggling with:

  • Young children may not understand what is wrong with their brother or sister. They may be confused and unable to fully comprehend the implications of diagnosis.
  • They may have feelings of jealousy and resentment if they see that their parents are spending less time with them compared to their brother or sister with autism.
  • They may feel angry over unequal treatment if their brother or sister is not disciplined in the same way they are or given similar chores to do.
  • They may feel embarrassment with friends or in community settings where strangers react negatively because of their sibling’s unusual and sometimes aggressive behaviors.
  • They are often frustrated by the fact that they are not able to get their brother or sister to respond or interact with them in “normal” ways.
  • Quietly, and sometimes secretly, siblings worry about their brothers and sisters and their parents as everyone in a family is impacted by the disorder in some way.
  • Many children are unable to express their feelings so sometimes revert to “acting out” behaviors. For example, they may misbehave by defying their parents or getting into trouble at school.

Strategies for supporting your other children:

  • It is important that your other children understand autism and what is going on with their brother or sister. Talk with them early and often in age appropriate ways. Many books and other resources are available to help them to understand this diagnosis, some of which are listed on the Books page of the Autism Speaks Resource Library.
  • Help your children learn how to play and form relationships with their sibling with autism. There are a few simple things that you can do that will help with this, including teaching your other children how to get their sibling's attention and give simple instructions. It's also important to praise all your children when they play well together.
  • Find sibling support groups that can help them build friendships and relate to other peers who have a sibling with autism.
  • Download the Autism Speaks Sibling Support Tool Kit for additional information and resources.

Don’t hesitate to consult a professional if you feel your child is internalizing most of his or her feelings or beginning to act out. The earlier you address this, the better. It is not a failure to ask for this type of help. Rather, it is a sign of strength and evidence of good parenting.

Read more from A Parent’s Guide to Autism.

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