Special needs

5 golden rules for parenting the siblings of a kid with autism

You can’t split your time and attention equally when you have a child on the spectrum, but you can still make sure all your kids thrive.

If your child with autism has siblings, you’re not going to be able to divide your parenting time and attention equally. There’s simply not going to be enough to go around. And a child on the spectrum will inevitably require more of it. But always remember that autism doesn’t just make things harder for you as a parent—it makes things harder for your other children as well. As overwhelmed as you might be dealing with a child with autism, the same is true for their siblings. Here’s how to help them:

1. Schedule in quality time

Make sure you find an activity you and your other child can do together, one-on-one. Schedule that activity and stick to the schedule.

2. Schedule playdates

Have your other kids play with other children on the spectrum and, perhaps more important, other siblings of children on the spectrum so they can see they’re not alone.

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3. Be open and honest

Explain to them as much about autism as you can, in terms they will understand.

4. Make it a two-way conversation

Rather than monologue, stop and listen often. Encourage questions and answer them honestly. Allow your neurotypical kids to be honest about how they’re feeling in return.

5. Build a library

There are lots of books out there that address the subject of having a brother or sister with autism or other special needs… see the reading list below for some great titles to get your library started.

Books for siblings of kids with autism

Autism and Me: Sibling Stories
Written by Ouisie Shapiro, Albert Whitman and Company, 2009. A collection of short essays by neuro-typical children with brothers and sisters on the autism spectrum. $5, amazon.ca

Everybody Is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters with Autism
Written by Fiona Bleach, AAPC Publishing, 2001. Illustrated for younger children. $19, indigo.ca

My Brother Is Autistic
Written by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, Barron’s Educational Series, 2008. This book is part of the Let’s Talk About series. Also for younger children, it’s simply and sensitively written. $9, amazon.ca

Written by Cynthia Lord, Scholastic Press, 2008. An award-winning young-adult novel about a girl with a brother on the autism spectrum. $10, indigo.ca

What About Me? A Book by and for an Autism Sibling
Written by Brendan and Mandy Farmer, Farmer Publishing, 2017.  Ideal for younger children, it includes illustrations. $17, amazon.ca

Read more:
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How my son’s autism taught me to say no