This article is authored by Luke Walker, a Positive Behavior Support Trainer for the WV ATC
The effects felt within a family when a child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be both challenging and strengthening but affects the whole family. A study from 2010 found that siblings of individuals with ASD’s displayed signs of developing hyperactivity, and supported the notion that “mothers of young autistic children experience more depression and stress than mothers of typically developing children.” (Barlow, 2010). Previous studies have had mixed findings but many suggest that siblings also experience symptoms similar to autism such as difficulties with social interactions, communication, and behavior. Furthermore, around 30 percent of siblings of autistic children have some associated difficulties in behavior, learning, or development.One previous study looked specifically at sibling’s depression, social adjustment and the level of child care and domestic responsibility, for siblings for young boys with autism. They reported a significantly higher rating of depression compared to siblings of children without autism, but not a difference with social adjustment. (Gold, 1993).
Parental attention can also play a factor in the amount of stress for a sibling. Parents have less time and resources to dedicate to a sibling as typically most of their attention is focused on raising the child with autism. It can be a struggle to balance the needs of the child with autism versus the needs of the family and other children.
This blog article will help provide some information and resources for parents and siblings about sibling stress and how to support other children in the family.
Types of Stress on Nonautistic Siblings
Family life for siblings of children with autism can be potentially stressful. The Autism Society of America describes the types of stress commonly faced by siblings:
- Jealousy over the time parents spend with the autistic sibling
- Embarrassment over any public displays of autistic behavior and routines that make the family stand out from peers
- Frustration over social interaction difficulties with the autistic sibling
- Stressed about being the target of the autistic sibling's aggressive behavior
- Worry about parents being stressed
- May feel a need to overcompensate and overachieve in order to please parents and get more attention
- Fear of serving a future caregiver role to sibling with autism
- Admiration for sibling with autism
- Proud to help autistic sibling
- According to a Time.com article, "Autistic Kids: The Sibling Problem", a significant number of siblings of people with autism go into autism support service careers.
The needs of siblings
The website of the Autism Society of America provides an excellent PDF guide for parents to outline the needs of siblings. According to that source, some examples of the needs of siblings include:
- Siblings need communication that is open, honest, developmentally appropriate, and ongoing.
- Siblings need developmentally appropriate and ongoing information about their siblings’s ASD
- Siblings need to learn interaction skills with their brother or sister with ASD
Siblings need time to work through their feelings with patience, understanding, and guidance from their parent(s) and/or a professional, if appropriate.
The WVATC sibling program
With these needs in mind, the West Virginia Autism Training Center has designed a program to support siblings which addresses needs and provides information to the sibling. The program highlights the siblings goals and dreams using an individualized approach that can involve further education about autism, how to interact with their siblings, increase time and attention from parents or provide an opportunity to discuss their feelings.
Contact the West Virginia Autism Training Center to find out more information about supporting siblings and follow the suggested links below:http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/family-issues/siblings.html
Gold, N. 1993. “Depression and social adjustment in siblings of boys with autism”, J Autism Dev Disord. 1993 Mar; 23(1):147-63.