Supporting siblings of Autistic children, a topic close to my heart as a parent but also a topic I speak on professionally as a registered and certified Sibshops Facilitator.
First published in 2015.
Autism Siblings Support
As a parent in a neurodiverse family, I know what it is to do my absolute best to support my Autistic and non Autistic children. I also know what it is like to lay awake at night wondering am I doing enough? Have I been the best parent I can be to my Autistic and non-Autistic children.
This post was originally written in 2015 and I am updating it now in 2023. I have learned so much about Autism and finding the balance since my beautiful Conor was born all those years ago. He is a teenager now and his big sister Hailey is almost 16.
Over the years on my social media I have spoken many times about the many different ways I ensure I provide support to my beautiful Hailey and keep that close bond we have had since the day she was born.
Autism Sibling Relationships
I have always tried my best to help my lovely Hailey understand what it means to be Autistic, what her brothers experiences in the world may be like and also how important she is in our busy household and more than anything how loved and adored she is.
The “R” Word
I also remind myself that the experiences in public that I have had along with her lovely brothers, Hailey has had too. She was present when her brother Conor was called the “R” word, she was present when a group of young teens mocked Conor’s speech sounds. She has been home when we have had calls where her brothers have been asked not to attempt “inclusive” events and told instead that they would be “discharged” and to find something for “autism” kids.
Hailey as Young Family Carer Ireland
Hailey has always been her brother’s biggest supports and advocates for them when they need her to. She sang Conor to sleep many nights when he was very small. He loves Westlife and Hailey would sing “You raise me up” to help him fall back to sleep. Meanwhile I and my husband would be with her two youngest Autistic brothers that just like their big brother struggled with sleep.
Supporting Autism Siblings
Here in this post I share what I have done over the years to support Hailey as a sibling to three little Autistic brothers. I type these words with a professional and personal lens. I have created a free PDF Autism Siblings Support download for you. I hope you find it helpful.
Autism Siblings Guide
Have open, honest conversations with your child about their Autistic sibling. If they have questions, answer them, provide information in a manner that they can understand. Ensure your child knows that you are not judging them and that you want them to ask questions.
- Autism Questions
They may have questions specific to Autism, to what is Autism, why their Autistic sibling may communicate differently or play differently. Be patient, and compassionate in your answers to support their understanding.
- Sensory Questions
Your child may have questions as to why their Autistic sibling stims, plays in a particular way, perhaps why they wear noise cancelling headphones or needs time to regulate after being out socialising. Explain as much as you can using a positive, caring tone.
- One on One Time
I have always ensured Hailey and I have one on one time. From when she was very small to even now that she is a teenager. We have a long standing cinema trip that we always go on together. Since she was very small we go to the cinema and spend quality time together. If we don’t go to the cinema, we may go to town or to an event. The point is that we are together and this time is Hailey’s special time with me. Often when driving to or from an event we will talk in the car about anything she wants to and often it will be about Autism or more often now as a teenager it will be about her life as a teenager.
We have a very open and honest relationship. She knows she can come to me at any time to talk to me about anything. She often says she is glad I am her mom as I not like other moms as she can talk to me about anything. It makes my heart happy.
If you find you can’t get out and about with your child for one to one time, undertaking activities at home like baking, or having a movie night on the couch just the two of you will also support the close bond you both will love to have.
- Individual Attention and Celebration
Just like you would give undivided attention to your Autistic child and celebrate their progress and special moments, do the same for your non Autistic child. Celebrate moments that are important to them, celebrate their uniqueness.
- Don’t ask for the Good Child
Often when I talk to adults who grew up as a sibling to a child with a disability they talk about always trying to be the “good child”. They would try and do everything right all of the time as from their young perspective at that time, they felt their parents were under pressure, so they tried to be the best child/student/sibling. They inevitably became burnt out and lost a sense of who they were as a human being. Ensure your child knows they can be themselves with you all of the time and they don’t have to try and be perfection.
- Encourage sibling relationships
Support your Autistic and non-Autistic child to have a close bond. That is something I have tried my best to ensure over all these years. I have supported Hailey and brothers to look out for each other, to use kind words about each other and to always make sure they are there for each other. Of course it can happen as it will in every household that siblings will argue, the most important part is that they learn to resolve their conflict and continue to be there for each other.
- Their Belongings are theirs
Ensure that your child’s belongings are kept safe for them. My lovely Max loves to go through books and trinkets to line them up. He finds it so relaxing and enjoyable. There is only one room in the house where he cannot do this and that is Hailey’s room. Her bedroom is her own space and each of her lovely brothers need to know this is her safe space, just like they each have their own.
- Same rules apply
In as much as is physically possible, Hailey and her brothers have the same parenting guidance. For example bedtimes are always at the same time and this applies to Hailey and her brothers. Whatever your parenting guidance for your family, ensure wherever feasible that “same rules” apply for Autistic and non Autistic siblings.
I hope you found this post helpful. Click here for your FREE Autism Sibling Support PDF Download.