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Treat Your High-Functioning Autistic Child The Same As Her Siblings?

Question

"My husband as well as most of his side of the family often accuse me of mollycoddling our 6 y.o. girl with high functioning autism. They believe she should receive the same treatment as her brothers. What do you say about this? Should you treat a child with the condition the same as those without it? I'm torn on this issue because I know that my daughter has some special needs, yet I don't want to enable. Advice?"

Answer

You should not treat the high-functioning autistic (HFA) or Asperger's child the same as the other children. Love them the same? Of course. Treat them the same? No.

The youngster with the disorder will need more support than her siblings do, but there are some things you can do to limit the amount of sibling rivalry and jealousy that siblings feel because of this inequality:

1. Do not pamper your HFA daughter any more than is necessary. She will need to learn how to stand on his own two feet, and dealing with a brother or sister is a normal part of gaining this fortitude.

2. Don't tolerate inappropriate behavior from your daughter, and don't expect perfection from your other kids (this will lead to resentment and acting-out).

3. Encourage your kids to talk to you about how they feel about their "special needs" sibling. Listening to their feelings can make them feel validated and can help to avoid any unnecessary jealousy.

4. Fully educate yourself about the disorder, and then inform your other children on an age-appropriate basis.

5. 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 very young brother or sister can understand that, "Michelle gets upset when we stop talking about dolls, but we're working on ways to keep her calm.”

6. Learn a few parenting techniques specific to raising an HFA child, and implement them at home (more here).

7. Realize that just as you may grieve the loss of a more “normal” child, her siblings may also be heartbroken that they don't have the kind of sibling-relationship that other families have.

8. Seek a support group. Getting feedback from other parents on how they have dealt with sibling issues can be quite enlightening.

9. Spend quality time each week (one-on-one) with the other kids - as well as your HFA child (this may sound difficult, but one way to accomplish that is to take one youngster at a time on an errand when possible).

10. Understand that HFA is an "invisible" disorder. Brother and sisters may be embarrassed in front of their friends when their autistic sibling (who looks no different than any other child) can't stop talking her favorite special ingterest.

On an interesting side note, here are some comments made by children who have a sibling with HFA or Aspergers:

• “He gets bullied a whole lot, at least he used to. Children would make fun of him for the weirdest things…it was terrible. He would come home crying off the bus.”

• “He is incredible at directions… he is able to give directions to anybody to anything, if you're any place in the united states, he will let you know what your location is.”

• “He is great at baseball and making jokes…I like his funniness.”

• “He talks non-stop.”

• “He’ll hit his head on the floor and he will kick the drawers and he will kick his door and he will hit his walls and toss stuff across the room.”

• “He’s very literal. In the event you say ‘throw laptop computer in the rear of the truck,’ he is actually likely to do that. That’s really happened.”

• “I like to see him giggle, but when something is humorous he's, horrifyingly noisy, he is outrageous. Occasionally I will take his hand and I will give him just a little squeeze on the hand and that is kind of his signal to kind of like ease it down slightly.”

• “I try my best to introduce him to all the folks that I know so he does not feel uncomfortable and alone.”

• “I’ve figured out either to leave him alone for about 10 mins, or you can attempt to calm him down, but most of the time I leave him alone for 10 mins or so…and the storm goes away and he is normal and it will be a typical day.”

• “James, a lot of the times is by himself. He likes to be in his own little world.”

• “My brother’s great at checking up on the weather…he’s usually watching the weather channel - so he knows what to wear. It’s excellent in the family, he always knows what the temperature is going to be and if the sun is going to be shining.”

• “When he comes back home sobbing due to something one of his buddies said, I will attempt to give him advice about coping with other students, and most of the time he does not want to take that advice. My mum will just kind of pull him aside and state, ‘Your sister has been through this, so listen to what she has to say.’ And then he usually does.”

• “When he needs his time, you give him his time. And when he’s ready to come out and be sociable again, then he will come out.”

• “When he is doing something that he really wants to learn about or that he is enthusiastic about or that I have done, he is extremely energetic. He is happy. And that is when he gets to his noisy stages where he will giggle and he is way up there.”

• “He really wants to believe that everyone wants to threaten him. For the longest time I would scream at him because I would say, ‘Stop crying - why are you crying? There is no need to be sad. I did not say anything!’ But to him, it is a threat should you say anything and…he simply cannot manage his feelings.”


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