Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
10 Tips to Help Siblings
of Asperger’s Children Succeed – Part 1
One of the hardest parts of having a child with Asperger’s behavior problems is watching the impact that it has on your other kids. On the one hand, you’ll stop at nothing to help your child with Asperger’s Syndrome, but on the other, you hate how much time it takes away from spending time with your other kids.
You hate how you can’t be there for them quite as much as you’d like, and how your Asperger’s child’s needs always seem to come first. This is by necessity, of course, and there’s not much you can do about that. But there are a few things that you can do to ensure that siblings of the child with high functioning autism or Aspergers’s Syndrome still get their needs met.
1. Educate early to understand the reason for challenging Asperger’s behavior
Early on, you want to educate your typical kids about why their brother or sister on the autism spectrum acts in a different sort of way. This should be developmentally appropriate, of course, but don’t be afraid to use the words “autism” or “Asperger’s” as early as 5. Or, maybe you just want to describe it first before attaching a label. “Your brother has a hard time when things change, and sometimes he needs to take a break from activities to calm down.” Or, “Your sister isn’t very good at playing games with you, but she will do (insert activity that she can do that the siblings can hopefully do together) with you.”
The idea is to head off any potential build-up of resentment over different treatment, and develop a sense of compassion, so that the siblings of a child on the autism spectrum understand the often times challenging Asperger’s behavior.
As your typical child gets older, you may want to say, “Your brother has something called Asperger’s Syndrome. It affects the way his brain works. Sometimes he needs our help to understand the world around him, and sometimes he gets overwhelmed and needs help calming down.” Something simple but explanatory. Your typical child already realizes that the child with Asperger’s behavior problems is different — but what they need is a “why” and what they can do about it.
2. Learning to Play
You may have envisioned your kids playing together in total peace, but the reality is that kids with Asperger’s behavior issues are often not able to play well with others. They can be very rigid with rules, or not understand them at all. They often won’t want to play with a game or toy in the way it was intended. Show your kids — model for them — another way to get involved. Find something simple they both can take some interest in. Maybe your typical child can help build a structure of some sort with the other, or maybe it’s enough that they just play near each other. Perhaps there is a TV show or movie they can both take interest in. Try to be creative and think of a way to involve them both, even for just a short time.
3. Give your typical child space to express his or her feelings
Anyone would have a lot of strong emotions when living with a family member with Asperger’s, and siblings are no exception. They have a lot they need to deal with, a lot of feelings to work through. Try to talk to them about what they are feeling and validate their feelings. A lot of times, the typical child will have negative feelings about their sibling with Asperger’s and feel guilty for having them. They need to know that it’s okay to have negative thoughts, as well as be praised for their positive efforts to interact with their sibling with Asperger’s especially when Asperger’s behavior issues arise.
It is very important, if possible, for the sibling to have peer support. There are groups called Sibshops that provide a supportive environment for kids with siblings who have Asperger’s to discuss their feelings and see that they’re not alone. Realizing that they are not alone is a big thing here. Being able to talk about their experiences with others who understand is also big. Many hospitals or Asperger’s organizations will run some kind of sibling workshop. The sibling gets special attention from the facilitators, and a chance to work through and understand their feelings about their sibling.
A therapist can also be useful for this in some circumstances too – some undivided attention and the chance to air their grievances and worries can do a world of good.
4. Carve out special time to spend with your typical child
In the chaos of everyday life, it’s easy for any parent just to assume the typical child is “doing fine” and focus more on putting out the fires caused by the Asperger’s behavior issues of the autistic child. While this is completely understandable, try to make some alone time for your other kid(s) when you can. This can be as simple as taking them grocery shopping with you so that they can have your undivided attention in the car and the grocery store aisles.
Perhaps you can take them out to dinner or to a coffee shop once a week or even once a month to catch up on their lives. Even time spent doing laundry with them or some household chore is time focused on them. When you’ve had a bad day yourself, it’s sometimes hard to find the energy to give so much of yourself to your kids, but go for small, quality moments and the rest will follow.
5. Have a safe place for your typical child
Some kids with Asperger’s behavior issues can get aggressive, and don’t respect the belongings of their sibling(s). This can be very distressing to the sibling, who feels there is no safe place for them to go when theirAsperger’s sibling is having a meltdown. Reassure your child that they can go to their room when they are feeling threatened by their sibling’s behavior. If the sibling with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome likes to go into their room and take stuff, consider letting them have a lock on their door (or at least a locker in their room) so as to keep their things secure.
In the next newsletter we will cover tips 6 through 10. But in the meantime, for other advice see the book, The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide.