When a child in the family has autism, it affects the whole family.
Growing up with a sibling that has autism influences many different aspects of a child’s development, such as: temperament, personality, and even the parental approach to raising that child. Typical siblings of autistic children are, in fact, the furthest thing from typical. Compared to other children their age, they are more mature, more compassionate, and have developed amazing coping skills which will help them for the rest of their life.
Siblings of children with autism often have a special connection with one another which is usually life long. Each family is different and has its own beliefs, values, and needs. But regardless of all, members of the family should be supportive towards siblings coping with a brother or sister in the autism spectrum.
At no point should the non-autistic child look down on the autistic child. It is very important that parents treat them as equals and introduce and maintain a healthy relationship between them. If this is practiced from the beginning, it will greatly minimize any preferential treatment issues that may be felt by either child.
When the time is right, it is important to talk to your non-autistic child about the fact that the he/she has a special-needs sibling. This will initiate a feeling of responsibility in the non-autistic child and also encourage them to understand and care for their autistic sibling.
Open communication with the typical sibling is essential. You must encourage the child to talk about any negative feelings they might experience, and to address these feelings promptly, so it will not cause any division between you and your non-autistic child, as well as between your autistic and typical child. Also educate them about this disorder, what it entails, what they might be facing in the future. Reassure them that it is normal sometimes to feel the way they feel and help them to bond from an early age.
Also, we celebrate any accomplishment with our autistic child, so be especially sure to also do it with your typical child as well. They like to feel special too and not left out. Make sure that you set aside some time to spend one-on-one with your non-autistic child. Go for a walk and talk about whatever he/she wants to talk about, or have an ice cream with them or watch a movie together. Give them a choice of what they want to do, so they will feel special and appreciated as well.
We get so wrapped up with our obligation to our special-needs child, that sometime we forget the small things that mean so much to our other child.
When Amin went to school, we called his teachers – Ms. Pryce and Ms. Kim – the “Angels”. They loved Amin and they equally loved my daughter Safiyya. When Amin got a gift for any occasion, Safiyya got it too from his teachers. I can not tell you how much I appreciated these gestures from these truly wonderful people. The first time Safiyya got some stickers, I had to hold back my tears seeing how happy she felt. This was certainly a confirmation for me that typical children also need a lot of attention – just as much as their autistic siblings.
Another great way to make them feel special is to have them meet other siblings of autistic children. This should be encouraged so they can talk about their experiences and see that others have similar feelings to theirs.
My daughter has a little corner here at this blog for this very reason. She has developed an amazingly strong bond with Amin. She loves him and she understands him. There are even times when I ask her to help me to understand my son. (so who is a parent now?)
My son turns to her in great confidence and love as well. I thank GOD for his mercy on me and my children, because we are a family; a loving, caring, understanding family. We do have our challenges, but we are facing them together, and we are openly discussing any negative feelings that arise, at the same time that we try our best to spread our positive feelings to those around us.
Another great expression I learned from my typical daughter – when someone comes up to us and asks us about Amin – “does he have a problem?”, we reply, “No he doesn’t have any problem, do you?”.
I would love to hear from all of you and that you share your experiences with us. This is an important subject and it has not been researched very well yet, so I think we can help our kids to have a healthy relationship by exchanging practices, stories and reflections.