The Siblings of An Autistic Child

Nadia Shanab | autism, general advice, parenting
9 Sep 2010

I am going to talk about a very common mistake many parents of children with autism get caught/trapped into. If the siblings of a child with autism happen to be typically developed (neuro-typical), they usually grow up in an atmosphere different than their peers with typically developed siblings. Having a member of the family with autism, affects the entire family. Almost everything should be arranged around the member’s special needs.

The proverb says something like: “The squeaking wheel takes all the oil”. In this case the squeaking wheel would be the child with autism, who always needs extra care, attention, effort, and time. Without noticing or planning, the parents rush and jump in to help her/him to restore some peace, stability, and regain control on their household. Most of the time they assume that the other siblings will understand and forgive that they are less cared for. Guess what? Wrong assumption.

The siblings of an autistic child -whether they are younger or older- are entitled to have a balanced life. They need to grow and develop in a healthy atmosphere. They cannot be penalized for having a sibling with autism. It is especially harder when the sibling is younger than his/her brother with autism. Kids are factual, what they see is what they get. They see that their share of attention and care is less.

What do you need to do?

Plan, organize, and network

It might seem to be difficult to implement, but the fact of the matter is that it just needs to be done once and for all. After you adopt a plan and get your life organized, everything will be much easier to do and you’ll be able to achieve more in less time.

Be realistic and accept the fact that other people can do some jobs for you that can save you a lot of time and effort that you in turn can dedicate to your other children.

Plan for the week ahead of time.

Find out when will you need help, and whom can you rely on.

Make a list of people who are willing to provide help and support. Some of these people could be from the family or friends or neighbors, who would like to help. Other people can be hired. There are also many non-profit organizations that offer help for free, like the O.S.F. (Organization for Special -Needs Families). They even offer help during weekends and have summer camps and afterschool services. You should find these resources that will make your life much easier. That is why networking is very important. Once again, communication is a great way to make life easier. Talk to people. Let them know that you are looking for help. How would they otherwise know that you need help?

With good organization, planning, and networking you’ll be surprised that you’ll have chunks of quality time here and there that you can reserve for your other siblings. This will allow you to share with them their favorite activities, and have discussions and conversations without interruption.

When you give your undivided care, love, and attention to your other children on regular basis, you’ll establish a healthy and strong relationship with them. You are simply conveying the message that you really care and love them as much as their sibling with special needs. Enjoy their successes and achievements. This is what will charge your batteries and will keep you going.

When they are very young it is hard to explain the problem or share details about the sibling’s condition. When they grow older, it is hard for them to accept the situation and adapt according to the family’s handicap. Try to make their childhood as smooth as possible. The first few years in any child’s life are the most important years to build a strong and solid foundation of a psychologically stable adult. The early childhood years are very precious. If the child is given a happy childhood, she/he will most likely be able to lead a happy, balanced, and successful life later in her/his adulthood.

Partners can always find out ways to cover the kids’ schedule. Naturally, it is harder if you are a single mother or father. This is when you need help the most.

Out of fairness –not selfishness- your life should not revolve around your autistic child. We all know how dearly you love your child, but this is not a reason to let her/him take over your household.

You will be surprised after they all grow older in a balanced atmosphere -even during adolescence- how compassionate the siblings are. They will offer you help and will try to spend time with their autistic brother or sister. Only then you can elaborate on their sibling’s condition. You will find listening ears and open hearts ready to understand and appreciate all you’ve done to make them all happy.

With their consent, you can then ask them to lend you a hand to help their brother/sister with autism. They can be role models for her/him. Teach them all you can to provide them with tools and strategies that can make the family’s life easier and happier.

Most importantly, tell them that their brother or sister is teachable and trainable. It is a huge learning experience for them; an experience that will make them more compassionate and humane.

You should better plan for the future of your child with autism without counting on her/his siblings. Everybody got his own life and responsibilities. Your other children cannot afford to take their brother or sister’s responsibilities on top of theirs.

A plan should be ready, that would support the child with autism -if there is a need- to take over the parents’ role in the future.

It sounds a bit sad, but it is better to be prepared for this moment than living in constant doubts. The plan will give you all the peace of mind.

Find about your child’s rights and all coverage she/he is eligible for today to start planning on clear bases.

Talk to your bigger family and people you know about your plan. Some body might be interested to help in a professional way and get paid for the job.

Awareness can help solve many problems.

Please read the two articles: A Message to The Parents and Parents in Denial.

nadia shanab

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