While this is an understandable consequence, parents can end up feeling frustrated and guilty; the siblings feel neglected or as if they are not as special as the special needs child.
Adding to the stress is the embarrassment reported by siblings when their brothers and sisters act out in the community – at church, school or at family gatherings. To make things even more complicated, siblings may feel a sense of responsibility in their siblings’ disability or a sense of helplessness and guilt that things are easier for themselves.
What can be done to help families?
Kristin Mahoney, Program Coordinator of Wesley Spectrum Services, offered these tips at a recent Autism Society of Pittsburgh support group meeting:
- Take time to recognize the typical children for their own unique contributions to the family. Reward them for their patience in dealing with frustrating situations and try to be understanding of their feelings.
- Divide and conquer. Arrange now and then to have a spouse or friend take the typical child away from the home for special outings – to the library, park, etc., while you remain with the autistic child.
- Continue to encourage new interests even though it may be more difficult to get them to participate in dance classes, sports practices, etc.
- Provide clear explanations to their typical siblings about autism and the symptoms, behavior associated with it. Use language that they can understand and try to be positive about the situation. You might be surprised at their interest—and willingness to feel part of your effort.
- Arrange opportunities for the typical siblings to meet other siblings of autistic or special needs children. Knowing that they aren’t the only ones feeling this challenge can be a great comfort.