Autism affects more than 1.5 million children and adults each year. When diagnosed with autism, the family unit generally begins to focus on the needs of the autistic child and may, inadvertently, show lack of support to the siblings of the autistic child. Autism creates a communication deficiency in individuals afflicted with the condition. As a result, family units become very stressed and need an outlet for assistance and support. In an effort to assist siblings in the understanding of the neurological disorder, the following resources may be considered:
To the sibling, the autistic child may seem like any other child in the family. To assist the sibling with a more thorough understanding of what autism is, consider purchasing reading materials, appropriate for your child’s age, which aide in your family discussion of what autism really is. Consider easy juvenile reading such as “Joey and Sam”, written by Illana Katz and Edward Ritvo, published by Real Life Story Books or for the young adult, “Are You Alone On Purpose?”, written by Nancy Werlin, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. These books, and many other reading resources on autism, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Create “Me” Time
To ensure the non-autistic sibling does not feel as an outsider, create special events and times to spend with the non-autistic child in activities geared toward their interests. For activities which a parent and child can participated, consider visiting your local art museum, roller skating, riding bikes, walking in the park or bowling. For younger children, consider art or pottery classes or even a trip to the zoo. The key to remember is this is “me” time for the non-autistic child and is not a “family” time event.
Sibling Support Groups
Because autism is a lifelong battle, finding a local support group is a necessity. Within these support groups, siblings, as well as autistic children, are provided an outlet for discussion and interaction with other autistic sibling groups. It is within these groups that most non-autistic children, especially younger siblings, find playmates and friends with whom they relate more easily. To locate a sibling support group in your area, contact the National Autism Society of America at www.autism-society.org.
Whatever combination of resources used, the most important key, in raising an autistic child, is to be mindful of the impact the disorder has upon the siblings. Ensuring proper growth and development requires talking, explaining, listening and sometimes sitting quietly and enjoying the presence of each other. Non-autistic children find the autism of their sibling to be of an equal challenge in their own lives. Remaining cognitively aware will ensure a happy and healthy family unit.