Fort Myers ABA Therapists’ Tips for Supporting Siblings of Kids With Autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD for short) is now diagnosed in 1 in 44 children in the U.S. As a broad range of conditions characterized by deficits in social skills, speech, communication, repetitive behaviors, and other challenges, the ripple effect of the condition impacts more than just the individual diagnosed. In fact, home carryover of early intervention therapies (speech, occupational, and ABA) is most effective when everyone in the home is committed to following our recommended strategies.
Our Fort Myers ABA therapists recognize that families – and neurotypical siblings in particular – may struggle with anxiety, depression, and social difficulties, as outlined in a recent study. On the flip side, researchers also found that children with autism who have a neurotypical older sibling tend to have better social skills than those who did not.
The key is striking a balance, and ensuring that both children are supported – and given the tools to understand each other.
A child with autism may, inevitably, demand more of a parent’s time, energy, focus, and resources. This may leave siblings of kids on the spectrum feeling as if they are being overlooked. It’s important to validate and address these feelings so that it doesn’t grow into a much larger issue as time goes on.
Explaining Autism to a Sibling
As our Fort Myers ABA therapists know, there are many adults who still struggle to understand exactly what autism is. So it’s little wonder that it’s tough for kids to understand too, though much of that may depend on the individual and their age.
Child development experts typically recommend beginning with conversations about the differences between people. When it comes to autism, you may want to be specific, i.e., “He has a hard time with loud noises,” or “He doesn’t make friends as easily as you might,” or, “He doesn’t always use his words to ask for what he wants, but we still help him try.” It’s important here to be sure you aren’t framing these differences as negative, but simply differences.
Many kids who are neurotypical are probably ready to hear/talk about it before you realize. Kids are often much more perceptive than we give them credit for. Holding off on the discussion – and effective strategies for responding to certain challenges – for too long, and it may leave them feeling confused or resentful.
You might also consider it not so much as a single conversation, but part of the ongoing dialogue that arises with “teaching moments.” Start with an open conversation using simple terms. As time goes on, the sibling will likely have more questions, and through this, they’ll gain a better understanding of their brother’s or sister’s condition – as well as how they can be supportive and navigate unique difficulties in their relationship.
Acknowledging Siblings’ Feelings
It’s important that each member of the family be free to express their emotions in a safe space. This might include feelings of guilt (their sibling is struggling in ways they aren’t), resentment (taking on additional responsibilities or missing out on certain activities), and confusion (not understanding why a sibling doesn’t want to play or doesn’t seem to have the same set of rules as them).
All of these feelings are natural, valid, and should be expressed in healthy ways. Resentment in particular should be addressed as soon as possible, before it becomes problematic. Key will be identifying the “why.” Often, it comes down to one child getting more attention than the other. This may be remedied by carving out special, one-on-one time with each parent and child.
Fort Myers ABA Therapists Can Help
If there are specific difficulties that two siblings are having with one another related to one child’s autism, have a discussion with your child’s Fort Myers ABA therapists to explore potential therapeutic solutions to address unexpected behaviors and/or to help improve their communication.
FOCUS offers ABA Therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
How autism shapes sibling relationships, July 22, 2020, By Emily Laber-Warren, Spectrum News
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5 Fort Myers ABA Therapy Techniques, May 24, 2022, Fort Myers ABA Therapists Blog