Having a child with autism has an impact on the family. The extra care and attention from parents on the child with autism, differences in the way sibling relation ship works with a child with autism and how the autistic child is viewed by the people around all will influence how the siblings are affected.
Having a sister or brother with autism can affect the siblings in a positive way and as a result the siblings became caring and compassionate towards the autistic child bringing the family closer together in dealing with the challenges. Children growing up with an autistic child could grow in to adulthood as individuals with a positive and helpful outlook towards people with different abilities generally.
At the same time, siblings could become isolated, confused, upset and intolerant towards the child with autism. In this context, family as a whole is likely to be affected negatively. Lack of opportunity for normal sibling relationship, role modelling and moulding of the development by parents could lead to problems with self identity, social skills and companionship.
What does the research say?
Research shows that the impact of a child with autism on the siblings can be highly varies. The factors that are likely to play an influencing role in deciding the impact are the support available for the family from their social / family circle, the resilience and well being of the parents, how parents work together and involve the whole family in supporting autistic child, severity of autism, socio-economic status, and individual character traits of the siblings.
What are the potential impact of Autism on siblings?
- The siblings could easily feel lonely and neglected with parents often being busy with looking after the child with autism.
- They may worry about the future as they may worry about the future of their brother or sister with autism or their future.
- The siblings could as a result of their frustration and stress could become aggressive, be truant (running away) or show other forms of behavioural disturbances.
The impact can be reflected in their relationship
- They could as a result of the frustration could become angry towards the brother or sister with autism
- They may also have poor relationships with peers
- They are also likely to be vulnerable to depression or anxiety.
What can be done about this?
- Parents should consider involving the siblings in discussing information about autism, type of problem that their child is experiencing as well as involve them in supporting the child with autism. It is important for parents to make sure that they are spending time with the siblings of the autistic child doing activities which are not related to the care of the child with autism. Practically, this may be difficult due to the extent of care that the child with autism may need. Parents should consider taking help from wider family, drawing support from their social support network or using short break / respite support available for children with autism (where this is available). The breaks are essential for re-charging time for them as well as time for spending with other children.
- Parents allowing them some fun and relaxing time away from the family through holidays with support from reliable and well known contacts from their family circle or friends. Safety of the children should be considered while choosing this option as the children are vulnerable to potential neglect or abuse if the individual who is supporting them away from home is not reliable.
- Exploring if the siblings could speak to other families where there is a child with autism so that they can get advice, support and peer group with a similar experience. Establishing formal or informal forms of such peer groups play an important part in supporting families of children with autism.
- Help from psychologists, counsellor or psychiatrist where significant distress is experienced. Family oriented counselling or therapies are likely to be helpful although the individual may need special attention particularly where there is significant psychological distress or even depression or anxiety.