Support Services for Siblings of Children with Autism
Life for all members of a family including a child with autism affects everyone—parents, brothers and sisters. Siblings of children on the autism spectrum experience many of their own emotions and challenges that need to be addressed and supported. Providing the typical sibling with appropriate information about autism, opportunities for self-expression, reassurance, and skills for interacting successfully with their brother or sister with autism can make a big difference in the child’s ability to cope and thrive.
Challenges for the Typical Sibling
The child with autism can require an overwhelming amount of attention from parents ranging from extraordinary hours of intervention to develop educational and life skills, behavioral oversight and modification, and personal care, among other needs. This may leave siblings left out, confused, anxious, angry, jealous, lonely or fearful. Their effort to share love and playtime with their affected sibling may result in the child with autism having a tantrum, becoming aggressive or being unresponsive, all which can frustrate their desire to have a typical sibling relationship. Reactions from others while the family is in public, or from school mates, may cause embarrassment. The typical sibling is likely to have many questions and concerns about what will happen to their sibling with autism and to themselves, both in the present and future.
Goals of a Sibling Support Group
There are various programs to support typical siblings. Therapeutic recreation models may offer children a play environment, the most natural and welcoming atmosphere for children to learn and express themselves. This format revolves around positive growth and fun, rather than a problem-oriented or instructional approach. Goals of this model may include providing siblings of children on the autism spectrum with: a place to meet other children living with similar concerns; information about autism spectrum disorders as it relates to their age and family, to increase understanding and decrease misconceptions; a supported opportunity for the sibling with autism and typical sibling to play together, to learn activities and skills that will be appealing and fun; coping strategies and opportunities to practice and role model problem solving; a safe environment to express feelings and discuss challenges of having a sibling with a disability; and confidence and self-esteem, capturing their individual strengths and talents, their own special space to shine.