Families of individuals with autism understand the daily struggle of everyday tasks and interactions. For siblings, understanding how to interact with that family member can be challenging. Young children often don’t know how to react to a sibling with autism. They may shy away from that sibling and not want to participate in activities. When supporting a child with autism in your family, it can be helpful to know how to help everyone better understand their sibling with autism.
One way to help younger children understand autism is to find some books about autism. Even young children can learn how autism affects siblings through social stories or picture books. These books use pictures to demonstrate some common struggles of autism. It can help the younger child better understand what autism is, looks like, and how they see the world. Once a child can see autism from another perspective, it will be easier to coach them through everyday interactions with their sibling.
Another way to help children understand and interact with their siblings with autism is through modeling. You can model during play sessions or everyday interactions. Sit down with the child and tell them ahead of time what you activity you are going to do with the sibling. Use the child as a “helper” to motivate them to participate in the process. Model verbal interactions by simply giving the child the phrase you want them to say to their brother or sister. Keep interactions between the child with autism and siblings of theirs fun by starting with activities you know they both enjoy.
Also, be mindful of all the family members. If someone seems overwhelmed or unsettled by their sibling with autism, teach them it is ok to take time to themselves. Just like the sibling with autism needs their own space at times, everyone else does too. An environment of acceptance and patience is key to keeping the family dynamic positive. Remember that how you interact with the sibling with autism is the best source of learning for the other family members. What you say and how you say it is the best source of modeling you can provide other family members.