Having a child with ASD causes a great impact on the family and, at the same time, becomes a challenge for the child’s parents and even siblings.
This condition affects a child in his/her way of conceiving the world which is different from others, to the parents who assume the additional commitment of raising a child who needs more attention and also to the siblings who make an effort to interact with their brother/sister with autism.
The relationship between a neurotypical child and his/her sibling with autism can become tense. However, the guidance of parents and some changes in the way of educating children can help them share and live with each other.
Here are some tips to promote a healthy relationship between an autistic child and his/her siblings:
1. Explain autism to neurotypical siblings
Depending on the age and maturity of your son or daughter, you can explain the notions about autism, and, as they acquire a greater understanding of the subject, try to incorporate more information, making it clear that his/her brother’s/sister’s condition is not temporary. You must adopt terms that the neurotypical child can clearly understand.
2. Promote time with siblings and friends
Neurotypical children want to spend time with friends, and for them to spend a lot of time with their sibling with autism is not something fun, but forced or the fulfillment of a duty. Fundamentally, difficulties in establishing communication, common interests or affection can be factors that interfere with sibling relationships.
This can cause a fracture in the union that exists between them, because they cannot anticipate the long-term benefits of facing and overcoming the situation. For them, it can be frustrating to have to prioritize a brother/sister with autism over their classmates and friends. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a balance and not force them into exclusive company with their autistic sibling.
Neurotypical children should, in fact, socialize with their own friends. This is even healthier and helps reduce tensions between siblings, thus providing a better environment for interaction with their sibling with autism.
3. Enhance the importance of the neurotypical child’s work
Value your neurotypical child and highlight his/her qualities. Make him/her feel that he/she is important in the family nucleus. Children love to be given attention, but not in a manipulated way. Many praise phrases can be used to motivate typical children to interact with their brother/sister with autism.
Never convince your child in a forceful way to play with his/her autistic sibling – rather, you can persuade him with these words:
- “You are a good listener when your brother tells you about his new toys; I bet that makes you feel happy!”
- “You are a super helper, Tom! You read that book very well with your brother.”
The goal is that the child can interact with a sibling within the spectrum and feel that his/her actions and support are appreciated by others.
4. Take the children to a play date that other children with and without autism will attend
You are probably scheduled to attend an activity with children within the spectrum in the company of your child.
This could be counterproductive because your neurotypical child may feel excluded, and may even begin to feel envious because you are expressing favoritism or preference for the autistic brother or sister. It is best to take them both to the appointment to play and prevent them from developing feelings of resentment or rivalry.
In addition, they can better understand the condition of their sibling/s by interacting with others and perceive these differences in a fun and entertaining way, which will undoubtedly strengthen their understanding of autism.
5. Share your attention
An infallible way to prevent your little one from looking at his brother or sister with feelings of envy and resentment is to try to take an interest in and pay attention to him/her. Although it is true that a child with ASD demands great attention, you should look for ways to find the time to make both children feel loved equally.
Show affection to children in an effusive way. Hug them, kiss them, express your love for them, congratulate them. It is important to make them feel that they are valued. Choose a special day for individualized attention. For example, attend a park or pool, etc… so you can take advantage of a quality moment with your neurotypical child. This can promote strong bonds of union between siblings.
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