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How to Help Children Adjust to a Sibling with Autism

Learn how to help children adjust to a sibling with autism from pediatrician and child development expert Asma J. Sadiq, M.D. in this Howcast video.


A child with an autism spectrum disorder has many challenges and having a sibling can really be very therapeutic for the child because there's an in-built therapist, there's a child right next to you, a sibling who you can imitate, connect with, and learn from. But the other way around, I think it's also a challenge but also a gift in the way the universe works because siblings also learn more about how children can be different. Now, this can be very trying in the earlier years, when parents are initially caught up with the diagnosis and tend to focus too much on the child with special needs, and often siblings may tend to get neglected and it's very important to keep that special time.

That special time for the child who feels special for just being who they are, without having a particular challenge beyond those of childhood, and recognizing that and recognizing them for their strength, but also having to help them deal with the child who is different. The embarrassment may be with their friends or going into the playground and having a sibling having meltdowns.

The more you can prepare your child who is typically developing and inform them about the child who has challenges and just describe them as being different, and this being their particular sibling, and also helping them process their feelings, whether they're angry, whether they're upset, whether they're embarrassed, whether they're joyful, and help build on that relationship, and yet give them their own time, let them develop on their own trajectory. Make sure you do that.

Depending on the age of the sibling and I think the different interventions when it's a 2-year-old, when it's a 5-year-old for sure, going into the teenage years or even just the middle school years, reactions and behaviors and feelings of the typically developing child will change and grow, and the most space you give them to process it is important. There are actually groups available for siblings which become a support group for them just like we have support groups for parents, and I think this is important to avail of, particularly as the child gets older. When they're younger there's lot of rough and tumble play, there can be some imitation where the neurotypically child may actually start imitating the child just to get attention, and that is important to differentiate.

Supporting them, working with them, and actually working through their distress makes them stronger, and actually more sensitive and more knowledgeable, and more mature, but also needing extra attention themselves.

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