There is always tension between siblings, but when a child has a physical or mental developmental disorder, this sibling rivalry can become even more pronounced. As a parent, dealing with disorders can be stressful enough without having to worry about balancing your time between two or more children. There are several things that can be done to improve sibling relationships when one or more children have autism, but remember that children of all ages fight, so time apart is important too.
First of all, it is important to educate your children about autism. Starting at a young age, your children who have not been diagnosed with the disease should learn that their brother or sister has a different understanding of the world. This is especially important because when you and your spouse pass away, it is very likely that your other children will have a power of attorney over your autistic siblings, even if they do not have direct responsibility for them on a day-to-day basis. It can be beneficial to explain this to them as they mature, but even as a child, a sibling’s sense of responsibility in need of help can lead to greater understanding. Get your child involved in caring for your autistic child by learning fun educational games to play together or helping him with daily tasks like dressing and eating.
However, remember that your non-autistic child also needs a lot of care and attention. Plan a family outing that all of your children can enjoy, but also invite your non-autistic children to other events. They may feel resentful that they cannot do all the things with their family that a typical child and family can do, so try to counter this with other events. For example, your family may not be able to travel to the beach because your autistic child cannot cope with the stresses of sand, water, and crowds. Instead, plan a family trip to a less crowded lake destination or, if you live close enough, plan a day trip to the beach while your autistic child visits grandma or does another activity.
Remember that your non-autistic children need attention at other times of the day, not just occasionally at special events. Schedule some time each day to give these children your undivided attention. Think of this type of sibling rivalry as similar to the rivalry that occurs when a new child is born. Although the new baby needs your attention the most, you cannot ignore your other children. The same is true when you have an autistic child.
Lastly, take advantage of programs and organizations designed to help families in difficult situations. Many groups are formed specifically for siblings of autistic children to help them cope with the stress it causes in their lives. If your child doesn’t like these groups, don’t force him to go, but these gatherings are generally fun and inspiring.
Consider joining a family counseling group. This not only helps parents deal with the stress of raising an autistic child, it also helps children, both autistic and non-autistic, learn to interact peacefully with each other. When there is a level of understanding between children and between a child and his parents, the family can work together to help their autistic member, as well as help each other to be successful in life.