There’s always tension between siblings, but when one child has a mental or physical developmental disorder, this sibling rivalry can become even more pronounced. As a parent, dealing with disorders can be stressful enough without worrying about having to balance your time between two or more children. A number of things can be done to improve relationships between brothers and sisters when one or more child suffers from autism, but remember that children of all ages will quarrel, so time apart is important too.
First and foremost, it is important to educate your children about autism. Starting from a young age, your children who are not 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, your other children will most likely have power-of-attorney over their autistic siblings, even if they do not have direct responsibility for them on a day to day basis. It may be beneficial to explain this to them as they mature, but even as a child, the sense of responsibility for a sibling who needs help can create more understanding. Get you child involved with taking care of your autistic child by learning fun educational games to play together or helping with everyday tasks such as dressing and eating.
However, remember that your non-autistic child needs plenty of care and attention as well. Plan family outing which all of your children can enjoy, but also treat your non-autistic children to other events as well. They may feel resentful because they cannot do all of the things with their family that a typical child and his or her family can do, so try to counteract this with other events. For example, perhaps your family cannot travel to the beach because your autistic child can’t handle the stress of the 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 with grandma or does another activity.
Remember that your non-autistic children need attention at other points in the day, not just every once in awhile for special events. Schedule some time every day to provide these children with your undivided attention. Think of this kind 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 aimed at helping families through difficult situations. Many groups are formed specifically for siblings of autistic children to help them cope with the stress that this causes in their lives. If your child does not enjoy these groups, do not force him or her to go, but usually these meetings are fun and inspiring.
Consider joining a family counselling group. This not only helps parents deal with the stress of raising an autistic child, but also helps children, both autistic and non-autistic, learn to interact peacefully with one another. When there is a level of understanding between children and between a child and his or her parents, the family can work together to help their autistic member, as well as help one another be successful in life.
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