Supporting siblings of an autistic child

By Micheala Ryan

I am so blessed to be a parent – it is truly one of the best feelings in the world. But learning your child is on the autism spectrum can be a stressful and unknown time.

A time which can affect not only yourself and your child whose been diagnosed, but also everyone in the family and close network of friends.

As most parents in my situation, it was not a surprise that my role as a parent would change. I understood that I would go through many positive and negative experiences, as I learn how to become the best parent I can be to an autistic child.

As a full time working mother

I was feeling extra pressure dealing with everyday responsibilities. However I knew I had to continue to promote a positive future by maintaining a balanced life.

I was trying to fulfil many roles, such as parent, care coordinator, teacher, therapist etc. causing difficult emotions to surface from time to time.

I had to learn to be more patient with myself. It was easy to become overwhelmed and concerned about what the future may hold.

I found that acknowledging my feelings enabled me to move forward and face the challenges – as I knew that if I ignored them, they would resurface, potentially worse than before.

It may seem like there is never enough time to do everything that needs to be done. So much focus and attention can be placed on the child with autism that it’s common for parents to have no time or energy left to focus on their other children equally.

It became clear that my other children, the siblings of an autistic child, needed support too. I realised that they frequently face their own challenges, as in some ways, much more is expected from them. Below are a few of the key things I’ve learnt during my time as a parent.

Siblings of autistic children often need help understanding the emotions they’re experiencing as a result of the many changes occurring in their lives. The problems they may face include:

  • A lack of understanding of autism leading them to be confused.
  • Feelings of jealousy if they get less time from their parents compared to their autistic sibling.
  • Feeling frustrated and angry over unequal treatment.
  • Feeling embarrassed and reacting to other people who ill-treat and behave differently towards their autistic sibling.
  • They may feel frustrated not understanding why their sibling acts differently to how they do.
  • Confusion and frustration caused by being unable to get the response or interaction they would like from their autistic sibling.

The ways to support siblings of autistic children:

  • Talk to them and inform them about autism and why their sibling is different.
  • Teach them how to get their sibling’s attention and how best to communicate with them.
  • Praise all of your children for their unique abilities and achievements.
  • Don’t hesitate to consult a professional if you feel your child is internalising most of their feelings or beginning to act out. It’s okay to ask for help – the earlier you address this, the better.

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