Living and coping with a child on the autism spectrum can result in increased vulnerability of the whole family including parents, grandparents and siblings. Research shows that families with a child with autism can be socially isolated and often experience high stress levels as a consequence of their care giving responsibilities, the child's cognitive impairment and the need for long term support. SIGN 98 Guidelines (revised edition date tbc)
There are special demands on children growing up in a household with a child with autism however it should be recognised that, as in all families, the quality of sibling relationships varies widely. The way that the parents and the school work together will have an impact on the siblings, particularly if the children attend the same school.
What may help?
- An awareness of their individual situation
- A 'mentor' who can give quality time to the sibling (Guidance teacher, Befriender)
- Peer understanding of autism
- Siblings workshops, perhaps carried out in partnership with appropriate services such as health, social services or the voluntary sector.
Don’t make assumptions
• Parents and teachers may assume a sibling has a reasonable degree of knowledge about autism but in fact children may have a range of misconceptions and ideas that require clarification and correction.
Use books and resources
• Help siblings understand why their brother or sister is different .
There are many age appropriate books and resources available.
A selection of these can be found in Resources button on right side of the page.
Do they have someone to talk to?
• At times, the pressure on siblings may be intense. They should be able to identify someone in school with whom they feel comfortable, to share their concerns.
Siblings may feel embarrassment
• An overriding worry may be caused by the presence of their autistic sibling and their unpredictable responses coupled with social "mistakes". This can create awkward situations that may make relaxed play hard and therefore challenges their opportunity to form and maintain friendships. How do they explain this to their peer group? Is it going to affect their friendships? Are pupils and teachers going to think that they are the same as their sibling? What if their sibling ends up in some of their classes? What if they want to go to the same school dance?
Siblings may feel responsible
• The young person with autism may idolize or become overly dependent on their sibling. Siblings should be allowed to develop their own circle of friends and supported in their own extra curricular activities. Their achievements should be celebrated.
Confusing and conflicting emotions
• Siblings may feel overshadowed by their brother or sister with autism.
At times, they may feel intensely protective and responsible for anything that happens but may feel angry and hostile when their brother /sister does something that irritates them.
Young people may have feelings of frustration, sadness and resentment at the impact the ASD has on the relationship with their sibling.
Siblings may find it harder to discuss worries with their parents
• As they witness first hand the impact of having a family member with autism, they may not wish to add to their parents’ concerns. Do they have someone to talk too? At the same time, parental expectation may be overwhelming. They may wish this child to achieve and succeed academically where perhaps the child with autism would not. .
Overall wellbeing and achievement
• There will be times where home life can be tense and mentally and physically exhausting, particularly if the child with autism has an irregular sleep pattern or is going through an unsettled phase. This may have an affect on overall wellbeing of the sibling and could impact on academic performance.