Home » Autism Solutions » 6 Ways to Support Siblings of Autistic Children

6 Ways to Support Siblings of Autistic Children

April 12, 2024

Every day, my eldest son, Andrew, and my daughter, Lizzie, who has autism, would zoom down the block on their scooters. Lizzie had her spot where she always turned back, and I’d watch them from the steps, relieved by her predictable routine.

But one day, they didn’t return as quickly. Panic set in as minutes passed. I scoured the neighborhood, blaming Andrew in my frantic state. Eventually, I found them safe but far from home.

Andrew explained that Lizzie had kept going, and he stayed with her to keep her safe. Gratitude overwhelmed me as I realized I hadn’t fully appreciated Andrew’s care.

That is when I realized I rarely gave him the credit he deserved, so I began to practice these six ways to support autism siblings. 

Download your FREE guide on 

Simple Ways You Can Help Strengthen the ASD Sibling Relationship

1. Reinforce siblings’ strong character and good behavior

For our special needs child, we set up behavior charts, carry treats in our purses, and reinforce regularly. Unfortunately, often, the only attention the siblings get is when they do something wrong.

Become aware of the positive things the siblings do. Begin to point these out often by praising them and giving them extra privileges. Watch their confidence rise, and their attitude soar.

2. Create “special time” at least once a week with the siblings

It doesn’t have to be a big event or fancy occasion. Maybe it’s playing a game when your special needs child is in bed, going out for ice cream during therapy, or letting them pick the movie one afternoon.

These small gestures remind them they are just as loved and important as the special needs child.

3. Establish open communication with the siblings about your child with autism

Even if the siblings don’t verbalize it, they feel the extra stress that comes along with having a child with autism in the home. As the siblings get older, life can feel pretty unfair when the child with autism always dictates the family’s schedule.

Allowing the sibling to come to you and share how they feel without judgment will open the opportunity to provide encouragement to overcome this adversity. 

A mother talking to her daughter

“Special needs siblings learn to deal with criticism and intolerance early in their lives,” stated MariAnn Gattelaro, M.S., CRC, LPC. Both of which will serve them well in the real world.

4. Encourage the siblings to form friendships with other siblings of special needs kids

Children, like adults, thrive with a network of friends who relate to their experiences. We, as parents, seek out other parents of kids with autism because we need to feel less alone.

Somehow, we are more able to cope when we know there are others going through the same difficulties. The siblings will feel less isolated when they connect with someone their age who understands what they are going through.

5. Give the siblings grace, too

It is easy to give the child with autism the benefit of the doubt because any action can be blamed on the disability. They might believe they can’t make mistakes or cause problems because their parents are dealing with bigger issues.

Let the siblings know that you are there for them, too. Reassure them they are allowed to be human and your love is unconditional.

6. Allow the siblings to be part of the “team”

I remember a time when my son was begging for his own therapist because he felt so left out. Giving siblings simple tasks to help your special needs child allows them to become part of the “team.”

Sometimes, love must be fostered before it becomes a choice. With encouragement, my son became our best therapist, doing silly play and engaging his sister in ways no one else could.

Today, they have a beautiful relationship that is beneficial to them both. It touches my heart to see my daughter’s love for her brother and to know he will always choose to take care of her.

Special Offer

Don't miss out on the Autism Parenting Summit.
Click here to sign up now!

The importance of autism siblings’ support

The support provided by siblings of individuals with autism is incredibly important. They are like the backbone of their families, helping to create understanding, acceptance, and empathy towards their brother or sister with autism.

Their support not only helps their sibling with autism but also makes our society more inclusive. By valuing and nurturing the unique relationships within families affected by autism, we can create a kinder and more supportive world.

This article was featured in Issue 71 – Navigating A New Yea


Q: How can I support my older child who has a sibling with autism?

A: Supporting an older sibling of an autistic child involves understanding their unique needs and providing them with attention, validation, and resources. It’s essential to foster open communication, offer opportunities for one-on-one time, and acknowledge their feelings of frustration or jealousy.

Q: What are the odds of having a second child with autism?

A: The likelihood of having a second child with autism varies, but studies suggest it’s higher than the general population risk. While the exact odds depend on various factors, including genetics and environmental influences, estimates range from about 2% to 18%.

Q: What it’s like to have a sibling with autism?

A: Having a sibling with autism can be both challenging and rewarding. It often involves navigating unique dynamics, fostering empathy, and finding strength in shared experiences while also requiring patience, understanding, and adaptation to meet the diverse needs of each family member.


Shivers, C.M., Jackson, J.B. & McGregor, C.M. Functioning Among Typically Developing Siblings of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-Analysis. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 22, 172–196 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-018-0269-2 

Ben-Itzchak, E., Nachshon, N. & Zachor, D.A. Having Siblings is Associated with Better Social Functioning in Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Abnorm Child Psychol 47, 921–931 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-018-0473-z 

Philippa Moss, Vasiliki Eirinaki, Sarah Savage, Patricia Howlin, Growing older with autism – The experiences of adult siblings of individuals with autism, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Volume 63, 2019, Pages 42-51, ISSN 1750-9467, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2018.10.005 

Rixon, L., Hastings, R.P., Kovshoff, H. et al. Sibling Adjustment and Sibling Relationships Associated with Clusters of Needs in Children with Autism: A Novel Methodological Approach. J Autism Dev Disord 51, 4067–4076 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04854-0 

Alexandra T. Leedham, Andrew R. Thompson, Megan Freeth, A thematic synthesis of siblings’ lived experiences of autism: Distress, responsibilities, compassion and connection, Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 97, 2020, 103547, ISSN 0891-4222, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2019.103547

Guidotti L, Musetti A, Barbieri GL, Ballocchi I, Corsano P. Conflicting and harmonious sibling relationships of children and adolescent siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder. Child Care Health Dev. 2021; 47: 163–173. https://doi.org/10.1111/cch.12823 

Rosen, N. E., McCauley, J. B., & Lord, C. (2022). Influence of siblings on adaptive behavior trajectories in autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 26(1), 135-145. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613211024096 

Jones, E.A., Fiani, T., Stewart, J.L. et al. When One Sibling Has Autism: Adjustment and Sibling Relationship. J Child Fam Stud 28, 1272–1282 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01374-z

Support Autism Parenting Magazine

We hope you enjoyed this article. In order to support us to create more helpful information like this, please consider purchasing a subscription to Autism Parenting Magazine.

Download our FREE guide on the best Autism Resources for Parents

Related Articles

Autism Parenting Magazine