In a family that has a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) siblings sometimes get overlooked because of busy schedules, behavior problems, and other obligations.
In a study recently published in Social Science & Medicine journal, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined the life outcomes in adulthood of non-disabled siblings of individuals who have developmental disabilities, including ASDs.
Their study revealed that while siblings of someone with a developmental disability had a normative employment and educational pattern they were less likely to get married and more likely to get divorced than their peers.The marital status of a sibling may seem like it’s too far away to worry about now but other studies have shown that siblings also face increased stress, depression, and behavior problems in their youth.
It is relatively uncertain exactly what causes these problems but there are some ways to make a positive difference in a sibling’s life. Here are some of the many tips to help siblings of an individual with ASD:
Make sure they have attention and time for themselves. Try to carve out a special time to do one-on-one activities (even if it is just a bedtime story alone together) and encourage them to get involved in something they enjoy. Be sure to offer them praise and recognition.
Help them understand ASDs and how they can interact with their sibling. Try to explain the disability in a way they can understand and show them how to best play with their sibling.
Keep communication open and help them learn ways to answer questions their friends might have. Encourage them to be open and let them know it’s okay to ask questions. Work through scenarios and different ways they could respond to when someone asks them a question about their sibling.
Find someone that can relate to them. Whether it is another child who has a sibling with an ASD or a larger support group having someone that understands what they are going through and they can openly talk with can provide them with tremendous support.
Journal Reference: Wolfe, B., Song, J., Greenberg, J., & Mailick, M. (2014). Ripple effects of developmental disabilities and mental illness on nondisabled adult siblings. Social Science & Medicine, 108 .