Pawel Matus, MA
The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a child can heavily impact the everyday life of their parents, possibly turning it upside down on many levels. But the diagnosis can be just as impactful on the child’s typically-developing siblings.
A study conducted at Illinois State University interviewed children whose siblings had ASD in order to identify their experiences and their support needs. Such children have been reported to be affected both positively and negatively by their siblings’ disorder. Positive effects include a “heightened sense of responsibility” for or “emotional bonds of love for and pride” with their brother or sister. DrOmnibus, a tech company developing apps for children with autism, has likewise done a series of interviews (in cooperation with the Support for a Good Start Foundation in Poland) with the siblings of children with ASD that lead to the same conclusion. Eve, 13, says about her brother Kuba that “He’s got Asperger’s, but you can’t tell at all…Kuba is good with science, and can draw very well.”
In turn, the most negative part of having a sibling with ASD, according to the study, is having to cope with difficult behavior. Eight-year-old Hannah says that her sister Julia, who has ASD, “punched me a lot when I was younger. I think she wanted to hurt me, but she’s not like that anymore.” Eve, 13, went to the kitchen one day, and saw her autistic brother “standing there, holding a knife to his heart, and screaming that the hated himself.”
In difficult situations – such as when their sibling with ASD has an aggressive fit – children can use a coping strategy to cut themselves off from the situation and relieve stress in peace. Jim’s (15) strategy is “mainly playing on the computer, and isolating myself completely from other people,” while Hannah says, “My teddy bear helps me. I like him a lot, and when I’m sad, I always cry to him.”
In sum, while it’s impossible to predict with full certainty whether having a sibling with ASD will affect your child positively or negatively, there are things you can do to set the relationship between your children going in the right direction.
- Explain to your typically-developing child what ASD is and why their sibling behaves and learns differently;
- Don’t burden your typically-developing child with responsibilities: they’re not a therapist, and shouldn’t be forced into taking care of their brother or sister;
- Encourage stress-relief strategies to cope with red-alert situations;
- Try to find other children whose siblings have ASD so that your child can make friends with someone in the same situation – having support from peers was an important factor in the study;
- Come up with activities that the whole family can enjoy together to strengthen bonds between you, as well as spend some time with your typically-developing child – remember: forget about ASD for a moment, and just let them have fun!;
- Always talk about their feelings, never criticize these feelings (if your child has just opened up to you, don’t discourage them), and offer support as their parent.
To read more stories of children whose siblings have ASD, you can check out DrOmnibus’ blog.
To read all of the DrOmnibus interviews:
About the author:
Pawel Matus, MA, is an English philologist, freelance translator, editor of scientific papers, and translator, proofreader, and copywriter for DrOmnibus.
*Paid content by DrOmnibus.