Family. The word that conjures in your mind feelings of warmth, togetherness, understanding, love. Memories of late nights, hot cocoa, snow fights, and soccer games.
The acceptance of who you are despite your flaws, the security of knowing that you belong. Siblings are a part and parcel of our lives, the lives of our children, and it should be that way.
Sisters and brothers might occasionally let on how much we mean to them, then balance it by telling us when we need to take a shower, who to be friends with, to get rid of the favorite sweater because it’s ‘just awful’. It’s love. It’s acceptance. It’s family.
So what should you do if your children have a sibling with autism? It can be a different experience than their friends’, a world apart really, as their struggles are real, constant, dynamic.
As a parent, you want your children to feel the same acceptance and security that you do.
An important factor to keep in mind is that every child needs his own time, attention, love. A child with autism can shift the home dynamics, but the neuro-typical child also needs to feel like he/she’s a priority, even if he/she’s not a picky eater, doesn’t have tantrums, and goes to bed nicely.
Take the time (make the time?) to go out with just that child, or start a project that will be just the two of you, like a thousand-piece puzzle or building a bench for the backyard. Simply taking a walk or going for ice cream with that child lets him/her know that Mom knows what I like and Daddy really cares.
A child can feel empowered when he/she is integrated into of his/her’s sibling’s therapy. Playing a game with his/her sibling during therapy can create positive feelings for everyone, as well as true-to-life experiences for the child with autism. If it works, it’s win-win and you might find your child taking more of an interest in his/her autistic sibling at other times, too.
A parent of a child with autism shared her experiences about this. When the neuro-typical child showed signs of annoyance, of resentment, she realized that it was time to bring him on board.
To teach, to explain, to develop his understanding of his sibling, his life. So she went to the library and took out a video, titled Understanding Brothers and Sisters on the Autism Spectrum by Dan Coulter, and watched it with her child. They did it together, and she was available to guide him, to explain, to connect with her child through this medium.
It created a sense of trust between them, and she’s benefitting from her interaction ever since. It’s not taboo anymore. There is open communication about something that affects each of them on a constant basis.
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Equally important as practical tips, is the understanding that you play a pivotal role in your neuro-typical child’s ability to accept and love his/her sibling with autism. It’s a journey for a parent, and it may take time until you feel comfortable with your child’s diagnosis, differences.
An attitude of “He’s ours and we love him”, or “We’ll do anything to help him be the best he can” gives a strong message of love and security to the other siblings as well. When your children see how you find the sunshine despite the rain, they’ll take a page from your book and mirror your acceptance and love.
A string that was cut, then tied together, can be closer and more connected than it once was. Growing from these challenges, can foster the warmth, the understanding, the love that is family.
This article was featured in Issue 100 – Best Tools And Strategies For Autism