There is always sibling tension, but when a child has a mental or physical developmental disability, this sibling rivalry can become even more pronounced. As a parent, dealing with disorders can be stressful enough without worrying about dividing your time between two or more children. There are a number of things that can be done to improve sibling relationships when one or more children suffer from autism, but remember that children of all ages can argue, so time apart is also important.
First of all, it is important to educate your children about autism. From an early age, your children who have not been diagnosed with the disease must learn that their sibling has a different understanding of the world. This is especially important because when you and your partner pass away, your other children will most likely have power of attorney over their autistic siblings, even if they don’t have direct responsibility for them on a day-to-day basis. It can be helpful to explain this to them as they get older, but even as a child, the sense of responsibility for a sibling who needs help can create more understanding. Involve your child in caring for your autistic child by learning fun educational games to play together or help with everyday tasks such as dressing and eating.
However, remember that your non-autistic child also needs a lot of care and attention. Plan a family outing that all your children can enjoy, but treat your non-autistic children to other events as well. They may feel resentful for not being able to do all the things with their family that a typical child and his or her family can do, so try to counter this with other events. For example, maybe your family can’t 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 lakeside destination or, if you live close enough, plan a day trip to the beach while your autistic child visits grandma or does some other activity.
Remember that your non-autistic children need attention at other times of the day, not just occasional special events. Schedule some time each day to give these children 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 if you have an autistic child.
Finally, take advantage of programs and organizations dedicated to helping families through difficult situations. Many groups have been formed specifically for siblings of autistic children to help them cope with the stress this causes in their lives. If your child doesn’t like these groups, don’t force him or her to go, but usually these encounters are fun and inspiring.
Consider joining a family counseling group. This not only helps parents deal with the stress of raising an autistic child, but also helps children, both autistic and non-autistic, 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, helping each other to be successful in life.