Our Autism Helpline speaks to lots of families about supporting brothers and sisters of children with autism and Asperger syndrome. Here are some of the questions that parents and carers often ask.
My child with autism experiences difficulties in certain areas. How can I help their brother or sister to understand?
Explain very clearly to younger brothers and sisters what autism (including Asperger syndrome) is, and encourage them to ask questions.
There is a range of information aimed at younger brothers and sisters that you may find helpful. Visit www.autism.org.uk/youngersibs: here, we have a section called 'My younger brother, Ben' which is especially written for younger children and explains what autism is and some of the difficulties that Ben has. You'll also find simplifed versions of our publications What is autism? and What is Asperger syndrome?
There are a number of books, some written by brothers and sisters of children with autism, that will be accessible to younger children. We've listed some of these books in the 'Useful reading for brothers and sisters' section.
If you have a local autism support group, take your family along to this to give them the chance to meet other children with autism and their families.
Brothers and sisters might like to take some information about autism into their school, so that the whole class can learn about the condition. This can be especially helpful if their sibling with autism attends the same school, as it helps to increase understanding of autism among other pupils. Our Autism Helpline has a lesson plan which your child's teacher could use. Telephone the Helpline on 0808 800 4104 (open Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm) and ask for a copy.
How can we make sure that brothers and sisters feel included?
It can sometimes seem that parents' attention is often focused on children with autism, and brothers and sisters can feel left out. Try to include them in discussions, for example talking about behaviour programmes, daily routines and general rules that need to be followed. Or, if brothers and sisters don't think that a particular rule or strategy is working very well, encourage them to say so. Do they have alternative ideas?
Invite siblings along to any meetings where you are talking about your child with autism: siblings don't have to go to these meetings, but it can help to ask them.
Family days out that everyone enjoys can also be important: visit www.autism.org.uk/daysout for some suggestions from other families who have children with autism. And of course, it helps to make time for the sibling on his or her own: you might go out to their favourite place or do an activity they enjoy.
My child feels that their sibling with autism is allowed to get away with things. What can I do?
Children with autism benefit from having rules, or timetables to follow, as it helps them to understand what their day will involve and what is expected of them. Make sure that brothers and sisters understand that this is why you may follow certain routines - not because you're putting their sibling's interests or needs first.
Children with autism can have challenging behaviour, or may not understand the consequences of their behaviour (hence they might do things that appear 'naugthy' to their brothers or sisters). Praise brothers and sisters for being understanding and tolerant of any difficult behaviour. Make sure that they know how to react in such cases; for example, they might like to go to their room and listen to music, or go outside to play, while things calm down. Brothers and sisters may be happy to do this if they understand that they aren't being pushed away.
Make sure that children with autism, as well as their brothers and sisters, have some tasks or household chores to do. That way, brothers and sisters won't feel that they have to do everything, or that they are treated differently.
How can I stop my child worrying what his friends will think of his sibling with autism?
Some children will worry about what their friends will think about thier brother or sister who has autism andmay not, for example, want their friends to come to your home to play.
As mentioned above, there are some excellent books about autism that brothers and sisters can also show to their friends, or it might be that their class at school could do a lesson about autism which helps to explain the condition.