When one of your children gets diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can feel like your focus narrows. From that point on, a lot of your attention goes toward helping that child navigate the unique path in front of them.
If you have other children, you may feel tension in trying to support both children equally despite one child requiring additional help. While your child on the spectrum does need attention and care, so do your other children.
Your neurotypical child probably has questions about their sibling. Therefore, you have the opportunity to explain autism to your other children. And the way you explain your child’s disorder will likely shape the way they see and interact with their sibling. Here are five tips that can help.
Find a Common Vocabulary
ASD is a highly complex and heterogenous disorder, so even adults can have a difficult time understanding it. That doesn’t mean you should ignore addressing it with their siblings. Doing so could leave them confused.
Instead, learn to talk about autism in ways they can understand. To do this, start by asking questions like, “Have you noticed that your sibling plays differently than you?” or “Have you heard of autism? What do you know about it?”
To help your child talk openly about what they notice in their sibling, you might ask about things they do that may be different from their peers, including behaviors, play styles, and communication.
It’s not important that your child walks away with a technically correct definition of ASD. Instead, what matters is that they have the words to talk with you about what they notice in their sibling.
Create a Safe Space for Them to Ask Questions
You should continually remind all of your children that they can ask you questions. You might have a conversation with one of your kids about their sibling’s ASD, but your child might not be ready to dig into the details at that point. Give them time to ponder and process, then check back in periodically to see if they have anything they want to talk about.
In fact, it can help to schedule one-on-one time with your typically developing child or children. This can remind them that you love them just as much as their sibling with ASD even though they may get less attention. Just as importantly, it gives them an opportunity to talk with you and ask any questions they may have.
Let Them Feel Their Feelings
Especially early after your child’s diagnosis, their siblings might feel confused, frustrated, or resentful. Their home life is likely shifting as your family works to support your child with autism.
It’s okay for kids to feel those feelings. Letting them know that you might feel frustrated or sad sometimes, too, can help them emotionally regulate during what might be a difficult time.
Help Them Celebrate Their Sibling
Like all other individuals, each child with autism is unique and may have specialized skills or interests and a different way of interacting with the world around them.
Help your neurotypical siblings appreciate those special characteristics in your child with ASD. Not only can this help them to be a more empathetic, well-adjusted sibling. Also, it can help them be kinder to everyone they encounter.
Talk to Other Parents and Experts
You’re not in this alone. Every family dynamic is unique, but rest assured that other parents have traveled in your footsteps. Find families with kids on the spectrum and don’t be afraid to ask the parents what’s worked for them.
You can also talk to our team. At Stride Autism Centers, our ASD experts can help you plan not only the best program for your child on the spectrum, but also for your whole family. Get started today.