Learning that your child is autistic can be a blessing. Answers to behavioral issues are finally apparent and steps that need to be taken are revealed. However, this is just the beginning of a long road to travel, not just for parents, but for siblings. Understanding this condition and how it should be managed affects an entire family.
Children have a limited ability to understand actions that are not similar to theirs. The age of a sibling should be taken into consideration instead of grouping different ages together. Single out the age categories and take it slow. According to Jean Piaget, developmental psychologist, there are 4 stages of cognitive development according to age. Below we will look at three of these stages and how to handle the conversations by age.
Children under the age of 7 are unable to process certain information due to inability of in-depth logical thinking. Using examples of their experiences works best in sharing why their brother or sister is different. Stress that it is no one’s fault, that there is nothing to fear and that they may not be able to talk to you right away.
Ages 7 to 11 are when logic begins to emerge as a form of thought process. Experiences are still stubbornly linked in their minds so using a combination of experiences and logic should be used. Watch carefully to their reactions to know which way is the most acceptable. Explain that their autistic brother or sister has to try very hard to learn, but they can help by showing them things and playing with them. However, your child should know that their autistic sibling is not their responsibility. Always get mom or dad if they become aggressive.
Kids over the age of 12 are inclined to think like adults and do not have to have a previous experience to grasp knowledge. They will be more inclined to understand events of their autistic brother or sister when the facts are explained. You can go into more detail with this age group by explaining that autism is a problem in the brain that happens before birth. Stress that other people may not understand, but you can help to provide answers.
Stress Around Friends
Emotions can run high with siblings of an autistic family member. Begin teaching your children early that others with no experience may never completely understand and that is okay. Encourage siblings to share any embarrassing moments and how to handle these moments.
Forming Family Relationships
Autistic children require a lot of special care. The other children may see this as special treatment and get disgruntled. Your explanation of providing extra time may not be accepted at first, but including everyone as a family will soon change that. Also plan time with each one of your children to let them know that they are valued by you.
Acceptance of an autistic sibling into a family takes time and patience. By reinforcing their condition time and time again, autism can be physically and emotionally welcomed by siblings. Communication is key in bringing the right attitude to siblings in regard to an autistic child. It is not unusual for parents to feel responsible for adding this burden onto siblings. When a sibling reaches the age of reasoning, share your thoughts and praise them for the amount of help that they have offered. Autism is an issue for the entire family to share.
Caryl Anne Crowne is a media specialist and contributing author for the Aveanna Healthcare Blog. She regularly produces content for a variety of pediatric therapy blogs covering topics such as autism, speech therapy and general medical solutions.