One of the Merriam-Webster definitions of siblings is “one of two or more things related by a common tie or characteristic.”
But what if one of those siblings is a child with autism?
The relationship between children with autism and typically developing siblings is a varied, interesting and special one – much like all sibling relationships. And while that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges or issues that might arise –sibling relationships can be one of the most valuable interventions.
Most children naturally develop – learning language and behavior from those around them. Unfortunately, the imitation skills for children with autism are often not there. They need interaction to accomplish these milestones. Having a sibling who already has these skills is one of the biggest and best teaching opportunities.
Playing, talking, mimicking siblings – older or younger – can help children with autism develop language and behavior that will help them in school and in life.
In fact, peer modeling and peer interaction is one way Trellis helps children learn and build the skills they need for success through its school and various therapeutic programs. Children with autism that have typical siblings often can build this into their everyday lives.
Children without autism can sometimes act as parents, as nurturers and as teachers. This unique bond is one of the reasons Trellis invites typically developing siblings into school and programs for “play dates.” It helps foster the relationship and can benefit both children.
There is no doubt that having a child with autism can put extreme demands on a family. And every family and every sibling relationship is different. While there are many scenarios that can play out between children with special needs and their typically developing siblings, we think the first step to ensuring your children can make the most of this special bond is ensuring siblings understand why his/her sibling might act differently. This obviously depends on the age of the child, but chances are most children already sense something is different and love and accept their sibling regardless.
Trellis also encourages including siblings in family meetings and other discussions. Not only does this help ensure no child feels left out, but you might gain some insights from the unique perspective of your children.
There are many aspects of the sibling relationship to explore beyond this. In addition to your Trellis staff, some resources to foster interaction between your children include:
• Pathfinders for Autism Sibshops
• Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital Sibshops