Autism often impacts more than just the affected member of the family. It is extremely important for families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to consider the needs of their other children in the family. The good news is that research suggests siblings of children with special needs may show greater tolerance and understanding of others, more altruistic behavior and greater empathy. That said, many siblings will most likely encounter some challenging situations living with their family member with ASD. Having a child with ASD can be very stressful and more importantly, time consuming. For parents it’s always a battle to balance the needs of the family as a whole. Children with ASD often have numerous therapies that may reduce time availability for extracurricular activities for siblings. That can certainly create feelings of frustration and even jealousy if much of the family’s energy continually goes into the child with greater needs.

It could be very helpful to carve out some alone time with other siblings so that everyone feels equally important. Many experts agree that it’s important for families to have a conversation about autism with their children at their age appropriate level. Parents will most likely have to keep redefining what autism means as their children grow older. For young siblings it might be as simple as explaining “Your brother/sister doesn’t know how to talk” or discussing unusual behaviors that might be confusing. Older children might require conversations about how to explain autism to their friends or discussions as to why rules for the child or children with autism may need to differ from their typical siblings. That can certainly be hard for siblings to understand.

As children grow into adulthood it may be necessary to have a conversation about potential arrangements for care for the family member with ASD. Here are a few resources available to help families looking for sibling support:

* The Sibling Support Project – this national organization is dedicated to increasing peer support and providing information for brothers and sisters of people with special needs. It also aims to increase parent awareness of sibling support. They developed the successful SibShop programs that create community based peer support workshops and websites for young and adult siblings.

* Autism New Jersey matches siblings with pen pals around the country and internationally

* Autism Speaks has several great resources for more than just siblings. They have: