Monday, November 23, 2009

The Sibling Situation

by Lauren King, MA

Here, at Southeast Psych, we work with a great deal of children on the Autism spectrum. What we don’t see is what happens in their homes. Many of these children have countless hours of therapy in their home such as ABA. They might also have speech and OT appointments during the week. The child on the spectrum needs a great deal of support in order to function at the highest level of social, behavioral, academic, and emotional functioning possible.

The stress experienced by families due to the care involved for a child on the Autism spectrum can be tremendous. Parents can oftentimes express their feelings, but what about siblings? How do they feel about having a sibling who is different? What do they think about having different types of therapists in their home all week?

We know that the potential stressors for children who have siblings on the autism spectrum are changes to the family structure, feelings of confusion brought on by the sibling’s behavior, and loss of attention. They also experience feelings of jealousy, embarrassment, and guilt.

What siblings need right now and how you can help:

  • Education about Autism/ Asperger’s (depending on age/maturity level): Have a “sit down”, and teach them about their sibling in clear and age-appropriate terms.
  • A support network potentially of sibling peers to normalize their experience (feelings of jealousy, embarrassment, or guilt): Have them join a group such as Sibshops or the sibling support group at Southeast Psych (for more information, contact
  • To be able to respond to peers about their sibling: Model problem-solving about peer situations when out in public or with family friends.
  • Alone time with parents: Make a date with them each week
  • Realize their own unique characteristics and strengths: Make a point to comment on their specific strengths and characteristics—their likes and dislikes
  • Understand how to voice needs/Freedom to do so: Give them license to share feelings about sibling with you
  • Learn coping strategies for having an Autistic or Asperger’s sibling: Model healthy coping at home. Support groups for kids also teach a great deal of coping strategies.
  • Healthy modeling from mom and dad: Take care of yourself! We know that parental stress is linked to decreased socialization in siblings.

**The good news is that research shows that these kids are resilient, reasonably well-adjusted, and have good self-concepts. They are frequently more empathic than peers. In fact, moms and dads often overestimate the stress of the non-affected sibling.

Lauren King is a pre-doctoral intern at Southeast Psych who specializes in working with individuals with eating disorders, as well as children and adolescents who have autism spectrum disorders.