4 Tips to promote sibling relationships for children with disabilities like autism (Part 6)

Autism Siblings
Create opportunities for the siblings to share activities together, as equals.

This is Part 6 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

Jess’ blog post from yesterday is a great illustration of the power of siblings. Jess did seem to have a budding Occupational Therapist growing in her early on! But, no matter what siblings’ aspirations are, they may be interested in being involved in the care of their siblings. Given that siblings will likely be in the lives of children with a disability (such as autism) longer than anyone else (after all, they are likely to outlive parents, and will definitely have a longer relationship than with any therapist the child might encounter), the sibling relationship is an important one to foster.

4 Tips to help foster the sibling relationship:

  1. Create opportunities for the siblings to share activities together, as equals. For example, this could involve drawing a picture, decorating cookies or creating figurines out of play dough. Make sure this is an activity where each child gets to make their own creation, rather than having the sibling be the assistant of the child with a disability. Respect for each other’s respective skills and abilities should be taught, to ensure this does not become a competition, but rather an acknowledgement that everyone is different and can do different things.
  2. Encourage your children as they learn to communicate with each other. This may not always be in a verbal way, or not always the way you would prefer they would communicate (and it may not follow what their therapist has recommended), but remember this is a special relationship…and having their own special way of communicating can be part of it.
  3. That’s also true for other activities: encourage creativity and do listen for the sibling’s opinion when the family is facing a problem. Siblings have an interesting perspective: not only do they know the child well, but they are also a child themselves. Maybe they’ll have an idea as to what is bothering their brother or sister, or how to overcome a problem.
  4. Make sure the nondisabled sibling does not get a disproportionate burden in the household. Siblings’ feelings of resentment can be a huge obstacle to a positive bond. Encourage them to have their own friends and activities, and do not make their list of chores twice as long because their sibling might not be able to help. Rather, find ways to insure everyone can participate in their own way.

Stay tuned for next week’s blogs! We’ll be talking some more about the planning for the future and the sibling’s role and perspective.

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