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High-Functioning Autism and Sibling Issues

"Any tips for helping my 'typical' kids to understand their older brother (high functioning autistic)?"

Almost more than spouses, brothers and sisters are thrown together for better or for worse. When a sibling has an autism spectrum disorder, it can complicate that relationship because one youngster lacks social skills and another just can’t figure out “why my brother acts that way.”

Tips for Parents—

1. Don’t accept bad behavior from your HFA youngster, and don’t expect perfection from your other kids. That can lead to resentment and acting-out.

2. Fully educate yourself about your HFA youngster, and then inform his siblings on an age-appropriate basis. Know that kids on the autism spectrum find it very difficult to pick up on social cues and often have intense, narrow interests. Even a young sibling can understand that, “Jacob gets upset when we stop talking about trains, but we’re working on ways to make that better.”

3. Realize just as you may mourn the loss of a more mainstream youngster, his siblings may also be sad they don’t have the kind of sibling relationship that other siblings enjoy. Let them talk about those feelings.

4. Seek support groups. Mom and dads in those organizations likely have other kids, too, and they can be a valuable resource for the siblings of your HFA youngster.

5. Set aside quality time alone with each youngster. This may sound difficult, but one way to accomplish that is to take one youngster at a time on an errand or personal appointment when you can. You’ll have valuable “car time” with the youngster in tow.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism

6. Understand that HFA is an “invisible” disorder. Siblings may be embarrassed in front of their friends or at the mall when their brother (who looks no different than any other kid) can’t stop his weird mannerisms (e.g., clenching and un-clenching his fists).

  • All siblings fight.
  • Never compare your HFA child to his siblings. It will create feelings of unworthiness about himself and anger toward the siblings.
  • Your "special needs" youngster will learn crucial social skills in interactions with siblings. Seize upon teaching moments.

Letter from a parent regarding siblings of HFA children:

It has been two years since my oldest son was diagnosed with high functioning autism, and while we have all come a long way since that day, it has become obvious to us that our younger son (there is only a year between the two) has had to go down a much longer road to get to the point where he can understand his brother.

When we first discussed the difficulties our older child faced, our younger son didn't want to hear them. He didn't want to know that there was something different about his brother. He cried for many nights after, grieving the loss of his idea of what an older brother should be like. He became so depressed and upset over the diagnosis that I took him to see the psychiatrist who had diagnosed my older son. She reassured him that all his feelings were normal, it was okay to feel stressed by this development and suggested ways in which he could deal with his feelings.

After the grieving stage came the anger. This was a very difficult stage for us to deal with. He wouldn't even look at his brother except to glare at him from time to time. He wouldn't speak to his brother unless he had to, and when he did, he spoke in a really rude tone of voice. There were many times when we had to step in and "have a talk" with him about his attitude. Finally, when we pointed out that his behavior wasn't helping the situation at home and that we needed him to be more accepting of his brother, he settled down.

His first steps into trying to understand autism came in the form of questions. He would ask why his brother behaved a certain way, or did a certain thing and we would answer as best as we could. Then he started to make statements like "My brother does that because he hates change". As situations arose, we explained them to our son and he developed an understanding of the disorder. When the kids at school asked him why his older brother was a "freak", he wouldn't say a word. At the end of the day he would tell us these stories and we would make suggestions about how to deal with these situations. While this issue of the other kids calling his brother names still makes him very uncomfortable, he no longer responds by taking out his anger on the family.

Over the past year we have made a point of teaching our younger son about the communication difficulties his brother has. With the literal interpretation of words being the cause of many disagreements between them, my younger son can often stop an escalating fight by using humor or word play to diffuse the situation. Two years ago this would have been impossible.

Don't misunderstand me, it has not been easy to explain the intricacies of autism to a 10 year old sibling but I am glad now that we did. The boys get along much better than they have for several years and the younger one is providing much needed support and understanding for the older one.

==> Click here for more information on sibling issues and the autistic child...

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD



•    Anonymous said... My 12 year old son has a very hard time dealing with and understanding his 9 year old sister who has autism. He too feels embarrassed by her. He avoids being around her if he can. This article was helpful. It is hard for me because she could learn so much from him, but he is not willing to give her the time.
•    Anonymous said... Holly Robinson Peete has two children, one on the spectrum. Her other child wrote a book about it. I have not personally read it, but have heard good things about it from others who have.
•    Anonymous said... Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2011
•    Anonymous said… Thank you for this post. I have an almost 13 yr old aspie and an almost 11 year old son with bipolar. I never know how much to tell one boy about the other thank you for this post. I have an almost 13 yr old aspie and an almost 11 year old son with bipolar. I never know how much to tell one boy about the other.
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