Wondering how autism affects siblings?
You’re not alone. How autism affects siblings and their relationship is a common curiosity. After “K’s” diagnosis, it was one of the things I thought about most often. I can’t tell you how many google searches I poured over. A few years later, I chose to write my sociology research paper on the effect of Autism on Neurotypical Siblings (NTs).
How very few research papers I found on the topic back then shocked and saddened me. Most of what I did find had more to do with the autism siblings’ risk of developing the disorder themselves. Fortunately, there’s suddenly a flourishing body of research, which will hopefully continue to grow. So, if you’re curious about the outcomes of autism sibling relationships and ways to help, I’ve got some information to help you.
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Possible ways autism affects siblings negatively
I’ve gathered a few problems to share concerning how autism affects siblings. These come from personal experience, a few from friends, and others still from research papers.
- Some autism siblings relationships are marked by depression or marital stress
- Siblings may struggle to develop adequate coping and pro-social skills
- Marital stress may reduce NT sibling’s relationship satisfaction with their autistic siblings
- With extensive attention devoted to behaviors and therapies, siblings may feel unseen or that they’re lacking adequate attention
- Dealing with NT peers in group social situations may be hard for them emotionally
Ways to buffer some of the negative effects
Next, let’s figure out some ways to manage or negate some of the negative ways autism affects siblings:
- Be sure to spend quality one on one time with the sibling(s) individually.
- Discover their love language, then go out of your way to shower them with extra, intentional, doses of it.
- Talk openly with them about Autism and what that means for the family and as individuals.
- Prepare your children to be an advocate amongst peers/explain Autism easily. Allow them to feel equipped, rather than pressured and caught off guard.
- Provide opportunities for positive shared experiences, teamwork, and bonding – Homeschooling is one of the ways we do this in our home, along with team games, and unit studies.
- Build a social support network… for them– perhaps other neurotypical friends who also have special needs siblings.
- Strive to keep a healthy relationship with your spouse, because that will provide them an emotionally safe place to be open. Take a quick peek at my best advice on keeping a healthy relationship as special needs parents.
- While I believe we’re to find our identity first in Christ, help them develop their unique skills and passions. This way, they have something that’s “just theirs.”
- Help them develop problem-focused coping strategies– An example: Your NT child is annoyed with watching the same cartoon back to back for the last hour. You’d help them brainstorm ideas to alleviate this frustration
But it’s not all doom and gloom!
Remember that these potential pitfalls are just that. They are some things that could happen to some people. You know the saying about, “Once you’ve met one person on the spectrum…” It goes for everyone. Knowing the potential pitfalls just helps you devise a plan to keep you relatively on track.
Some of these same studies I’ve recently reviewed and the ones I read back in college also find that some siblings develop very close, special relationships and they are incredibly compassionate people. Take heart and just be aware of what’s going on and approaching it with intentionality!
Your turn: What tips or concerns do you have?
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