Siblings of an autistic child: relationships, emotions and support

Most siblings have moments when they are fighting for attention from you or each other. They might argue, bicker, and disagree but, having a brother or sister to share and play with can still be great. If you have both typically developing children and children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, there is a lot you can do to support feelings, emotions, and relationships.

Teach What Autism is

Helping your typically developing children understand what autism is can be very important in building a strong relationship between siblings. Who is better to help them understand why their sibling may act different from their peers than you? Talking to your kids and providing accurate information is a great way to begin to create that bond between your children.

Here are four simple ways you can talk to your typically developing child(ren) about autism.

  • Be honest with them. Talk about what they might see that is different from them or their friends.
  • Use simple language that your child can understand. Say “Sometimes autism causes people to play differently. Some people with autism have a hard time telling you how they feel.”
  • Ask them what they already know about autism. “Have you heard of autism?” or “Have you ever noticed that sometimes Mary can seem more frustrated than you do?”
  • Answer every question and be prepared to explain things many times over.

Find Ways for Everyone to Play Together

Find times for you children to play together. Siblings with a brother or sister who have an autism diagnosis can feel very positive and proud feelings about who their sibling is but may not always feel as connected with them. Finding ways for them to play alongside one another is a perfect way to help them build their relationship. For example, take them to a playground to run around together or build blocks or puzzles together. Including them both in the same play scenario can help build that strong sibling bond.

Have Special One-on-One Time Together

There is only so much time in each day, week, month, and year, but planning alone time with your typically developing child(ren) reminds them that you see them and continue to be there for them. Having the one-on-one time lets them know that they are special to you. When they feel good about themselves and how you feel about them, in return it can be very positive for their relationship with their sibling(s). It doesn’t have to be a day trip or crazy adventure. Maybe after dinner you go on a special walk or for a drive around the neighborhood. It can even be alone time at night reading for 15 minutes together. Keep it simple, but also special.

Validate Feelings of Negativity

There are going to be moments when your typically developing children have negative thoughts and feelings towards their sibling diagnosed with ASD. Acknowledging these feelings and finding ways to redirect them together in a positive way will really help your typically developing children feel validated. For example, saying things like “I can see you are frustrated that Hank knocked over your blocks. Sometimes I get frustrated too and that’s ok.”

Support Groups

Family life can get overwhelming, especially when you have a family member who requires extra care. Joining sibling support groups can help your children see that they are not alone. Autism family support groups can also aid in finding other families around you that may be going through similar situations.

Resources / Guides for Siblings

  • has a great printable “Sibling’s Guide to Autism”
  • Great article “How Autism Shapes Sibling Relationships: Having an autistic brother or sister can pose challenges, but it can also make children patient, empathetic, and resilient”