When one child has autism, siblings can grow up together.

– For parents who have neurodiverse children.
As the number of children with ASDs increases, it is becoming common to have one of your children have autism or a developmental disability. If one of the children has autism, it’s natural for parents to put extra effort into supporting the child with delayed development, and parents may worry about the negative impacts on other siblings. When children are younger, parents may fear that typically developing siblings will mimic the inappropriate behaviors of the child with autism. When they are older, parents may be concerned that siblings will be impaired or victimized by their autistic sibling.

Living with a family member with autism can undoubtedly require extra effort.  For parents with siblings of similar ages, it can be complicated to care for two neurodiverse children simultaneously, and it can be challenging to keep both children happy simultaneously. But it’s not just a challenge for parents; it’s a challenge for both children. You might doubt if a child with autism would feel the same as neurotypical children.  Maybe they’ll feel it slightly differently, but the discomfort will be the same.  So it’s essential to have mutual agreement and understanding that it is not just the parent or the non-autistic sibling struggling in the family, but everyone.  If everyone in the family shares the same feelings of respect and compassion for each other, the relationships will be stronger, and that strength will nurture each other.

Having a typically developing sibling for children with autism can be a tremendous positive resource. A typically developing sibling can be the best model for a challenging child.  The interactions between children are much more affectively rich than interactions with adults. They build relationships naturally, sharing interests.  Their interactions potentially encourage the development of language and communication processes. It can motivate a child with autism to learn and practice something new.  Having fun with a typically developing sibling can be a vital resource and gift in developing a child with autism. 

I have met families separating their children because they fear their child will negatively impact typically developing siblings.  That might give parents some comfort for that moment, but it is incredibly short-sighted. 

Reading, Writing, or math do not assess maturity. The ultimate goals of development include self-reflection, morality, abstract thinking, respect and compassion for others, responsibility, and honesty. Living with a sibling with challenges and being able to understand them is learning about respecting and understanding individual differences and having the ability to have great empathy. It also allows your child to develop vital patience and flexibility as they learn to navigate situations that may differ from their peers.

If we look at human development with a broader perspective and not just see the moment’s discomfort, we can indeed find things that help each other develop.  Make sure you create and maintain healthy relationships within your family that will eventually support each other for further development.

  Here are some suggestions for parents taking care of neurodiverse children.

  1. Talk to your non-autistic children about autism and share their feelings.
  2. Allow the non-autistic child to make choices about their role and show deep appreciation. Please don’t force them to make sacrifices or be bystanders; encourage them to participate willingly.
  3. Differentiate between time together and time apart so that both children are aware of the distinction
  4. Create a particular space for the non-autistic child and clarify it to the autistic sibling.
  5. Discuss with the non-autistic child beforehand and make decisions about toys or related items, food, etc., for the child with autism.
  6. Make sure that the child with autism is informed and prepared for any choices made for the child without autism or for any activities the family may need to attend or do together.
  7. Avoid intervening in arguments or incidents between children and encourage them to resolve them.
  8. It is essential that parents or caregivers create an environment that promotes understanding, communication, and respect between siblings while recognizing and addressing each child’s unique needs.

Subscribe DR-TOMATO newsletter