How to explain a diagnosis like autism to siblings (Part 4)

Autism Diagnosis Conversation
Parents are often also concerned about the impact their child’s difficulties has on their siblings.

This is Part 4 of our 10-Part blog series about the challenges and experiences of the siblings of kids with a diagnosis. Be sure to check back for future posts in the series.

Read all posts from this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

One of the first questions parents often ask me is how to talk about a diagnosis to the child who is concerned. That’s a big question on its own. Parents are often also concerned about the impact their child’s difficulties has on their siblings, and wonder what they should say, if anything at all.

Jess’ experience is a great example of how information about a diagnosis can be shared. No ‘Big Conversation’, just learning as we go along- for everyone! As the child improves on certain skills, and struggles with others, more explanations will be need to be given. The important is to insure lines of communications are open- if anyone has questions that are are asked respectfully, they should be answered.

But just how much can be said-and how? This really depends on the age of the sibling. Here are some pointers:
  • Children ages 2-3: Clear, short and simple explanation focusing on the behaviours and ‘Why’. For example, ‘Johnny finds it hard to talk because his brain works a little differently.’
  • Children ages 3-6: Illustrated books can be a great way to foster understanding in non-judgemental ways. Here are a few ideas:
  • Children ages 6-9: Books are still a great idea. At this age, children are able to understand more abstract ideas and concepts. They may ask about whether it’s possible to catch whatever disability their sibling has and understand that all of their sibling’s difficulties come together and have a name (e.g. cerebral palsy, autism, etc.).
  • Children 9 and up: Older children and adolescents are now capable of understanding in more depth their siblings difficulties. As mentioned in my previous blog, acknowledging their experiences as siblings is very important. Children in this age range may benefits from books like ‘Views from Our Shoes’, which consists of essays written by siblings of children with a wide variety of disabilities. More detailed written information (which can easily be found online) regarding the characteristics of children with a similar disability can also be useful.

Check back next Wednesday for The progression of my brother with autism and my relationship (Part 5).

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