Having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder can make it very difficult to devote time and energy to your other children. You may feel guilty or upset that you can’t spend as much time with your non ASD child. You may feel very tired and worn out, which can affect your well being and ability to meet the demands of your other children.ASD can be confusing for siblings and they may not understand why their brother or sister with Autism behaves in a certain way. Siblings can sometimes resent their brother or sister with ASD for taking up mum and dad’s time and for not being “normal”. Siblings can find the actions of their brother or sister with ASD embarrassing and not want to be seen with them in public, have friends over or go places with their family.
Despite the difficulties faced by siblings of children with ASD, in the long run most are well adjusted, tolerant and compassionate people who learn to understand and cope. Often many siblings of children with autism go on to become professionals in the health or disability field because of their experience.

Helping the sibling understand ASD
• Talk to your child about their brother or sister from an early age.
• Explain the differences but also the similarities.
• Explain they do have some problems but also explain the strengths of the child with autism.
• There are many good books and resources available that can help siblings understand ASD.

Your child may have many questions once they understand their brother or sister is different, which will range in their complexity;

Common questions siblings ask
• Can you catch it?
• Why did it happen? Why does he have it?
• Why don’t I have autism?
• Will it always be like this? /Will he ever be normal or get better?
• Why does he hurt me? / break my things?
• Why do people tease him/us?
• Do you love him more?
• It’s not fair! – Often a general cry of frustration and despair.
• Will I have to look after him when I’m older?
• Will my kids have autism?

Give your child clear factual answers appropriate to their level of understanding.
If you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know but you will find out the answer and get back to them.

Long term effects
Sibs are often caring, compassionate children that are more mature than other kids, but they become stressed, depressed and socially isolated.
The impact of autism on the family can be tremendous and siblings can feel guilty, sad and very isolated. A sibling of a child with ASD may take on a role expected of an older child, guiding and looking after their brother or sister especially when attending the same school. They may become known as “x’s brother or sister” instead of their own person outright. Remind your child that it is not their role to monitor their sibling all the time, it is your role and do not expect them to take on this responsibility.

As a parent you can influence how your child perceives their brother or sisters ASD. If you are negative about your child’s ASD, then more often than not the sibling will also develop negative attitudes towards their brother or sister.

How you can help your child understand and cope with their brother or sister with autism;
Set house rules-
• Have very clear boundaries about personal space such as bedrooms and bathrooms – the child with ASD should not enter unless asked and you may need to use a stop sign on the door as a visual prompt.
• For the sibling their bedroom is a safe retreat space where they know they can have privacy, space and that their belongings will not be touched or broken.
• Hitting, throwing things and other aggressive behavior should not be tolerated from your child with ASD. Children with autism still need to learn that it is not ok to hit others.
• Enforce rules and routines fairly for all children in the house to help support appropriate behaviour.
• Ensure, whenever possible, that the child with autism shares household chores and responsibilities.

Recognise when it is getting too much
The sibling may need support if they are exhibiting the following behaviours-
• Angry outbursts
• Outbursts of sadness or tearyness
• Fighting
• Being quiet or withdrawn
• Avoiding their sibling
• Staying in their bedroom more than usual
• Wanting to be anywhere except home- friends, relatives
• Seeking extra attention
• Poor school performance
• Engaging in risky or out of character behaviour
• It is important the child can feel safe supported and valued and that they can share their feelings without feeling guilty. Create an environment and opportunities for the sibling to learn about autism and ask questions if they want to.

Supporting your child
• Find some time each day to do something together. Read a story together before bed, go for a walk or play at the park. Utilise respite services to spend time together if needed.
• Quality time in short amounts may work better than large, planned, whole day activities.
• Encourage your child to have an interest, hobby or sport where they can spend time away from their sibling to socialise with peers and develop their self-esteem.
• Encourage the sibling to have a friend over to visit. Use respite time if they are not comfortable having their brother or sister with ASD present during this time if the siblings behaviors would be embarrassing violent or stressful.
• Speak with your child’s school counselor or welfare coordinator and ask them to check in with your child from time to time, your child may be more willing to discuss any issues or feelings they are having with someone from outside the family.
• Give your child time and space to talk with you about any issues they may be having.
• Provide a safe environment.
• Make them feel special and celebrate their achievements and milestones.
• Be a positive role model when talking about their brother or sister with ASD.
• Be a positive role model when expressing emotions and feelings – i.e. anger and frustration.
• Have a laugh! Sometimes your child with autism will do some incredibly frustrating or embarrassing things, but having a laugh together can help you bond and move past these experiences.
• Free counseling and support groups are available- Support groups are fantastic as the children can talk to others their own age about what it’s like to have a brother or sister with a disability.
• Books and resources- there are many books and resources available that can help explain to kids what having a sibling with autism is like.

Further information

Raising children
http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_siblings.html/context/986

The Association for children with a disability Supporting Sibling’s booklet can be downloaded from
http://www.acd.org.au/siblings/supporting.htm

Yourshout.org.au is a great website for siblings by siblings