Autism, and the reason as to why people behave in certain ways, can be a difficult topic for most adults to understand – let alone kids! Often, when a sibling is diagnosed with autism or a related disorder, the other children in the family can feel confused or even a little worried as to what this means for them, their sibling and their family.
With that in mind, we have compiled some tips to help you discuss autism with your children so that they can better understand and support their brother/sister.
1) Remember that everybody is different.
The most important thing you can teach your children is that each and every person is unique. This means that our brains work differently. A person with autism may act very differently to a person without autism. For example, they may struggle when trying to communicate with others.
Teach your child that there is nothing wrong with being different!
2) It’s okay to ask questions.
We learn through asking questions. So, tell your child to always ask questions when they feel confused. Teach them that although their sibling may sometimes find it difficult to answer questions about their autism themselves, you are always on hand to help. Sometimes, you may not have the answers right away, but you can find them out together.
It may also be useful to keep your child up to date in how you are managing their siblings’ autism. For example, if your child is attending an autism clinic and receiving autism therapy, such as Applied Behavioural Therapy, Occupational Therapy or Speech Therapy, teach their siblings what this means and how it can help your family moving forward.
3) It’s okay if you don’t understand.
When talking to your children about autism, base your conversation around things that they already know or have started to notice. For example, they may have noticed that their sibling doesn’t like to play certain games. Start the conversation by addressing things such as this – and help them understand why they behave in this way. There is no need to use complex language or medical terms – keep it simple and easy to understand. They are trying to be a supportive sibling, not a doctor! The video embedded below that might answer some questions they have!
4) I’ll always have time for you.
Often, when a child gets diagnosed with autism, their siblings can feel left out or frustrated. They may feel as though they are not getting enough attention, or that you care more about your other child. It’s important that you address this quickly and let your child know that you love them both equally and that you are there to support everyone in the family. Help them understand that although their brother/sister needs lots of support, you’re always there for them too. This will help combat any feelings of negativity they have towards their sibling and make them feel more comfortable.
5) You are not alone.
It’s not uncommon for siblings of children with autism to feel isolated, especially when they realize that other people have very different relationships with their brothers and sisters than they do. Its important that you help them understand that they are not alone. Their sibling loves and cares for them very much, even if they don’t always behave in the way they would expect them too. It may be useful to connect your children to a support group. It will be useful for them to engage in conversation with others their age who are going through the same situation.
In conclusion, in order to help your child understand more about their sibling, you simply need to involve them in the conversation and offer them support. By ensuring that they understand a little more about autism, you will be able to help them develop a stronger relationship with their sibling.