How Parents Can Support the Neurotypical Siblings of Kids with Autism
If a member of your family is on the autism spectrum, it will affect you in some way, regardless of what your role is. We often talk about how parents are affected, what they can do to help their child, and how to alleviate some of their own stress. That’s because parents are probably the ones most affected by their children’s autism (other than the ASD children themselves, obviously). However, in focusing so hard on the parents, we often leave one important group out of the picture: neurotypical siblings.
While our pool of research on them is fairly limited, there are some things we do know and have noticed about this group. And we want to shine a light on them—celebrate the awesome things, acknowledge the difficulties they may face, and highlight ways that parents can mitigate some of the difficulties.
So to all the neurotypical siblings of people with autism, this one is for you.
The Awesome Things About Being an Autism Sibling
If you’re the neurotypical sibling of a person with autism, you probably have a ton of cool aspects to your personality, behavior, and overall disposition.
For instance, autism siblings tend to be fantastic kids. Having a family member on the spectrum isn’t always easy, and it can often be very stressful for the entire household. But for many autism siblings, this stress doesn’t affect them in the same way it affects kids in other situations; kids in other situations may engage in risky behaviors or cause trouble. But autism siblings are often the exact opposite of that! They tend to be dedicated and caring, and many of them grow up to obtain careers dedicated toward helping people, like nursing or therapy.
Stephanie Morales, a thirteen-year-old with a brother and a cousin on the spectrum, is one of these individuals—she wants to be an O.T. or speech therapist when she grows up. “[Being an autism sibling and cousin] has opened my eyes to seeing that they really need people that understand them and their needs,” she says.
Going along with that, autism siblings are often incredibly self-sacrificing—sometimes to the point where they neglect their own wellbeing. And many of them expect absolutely nothing for the help they give. This is probably because they’re used to pitching in and helping their parents handle challenging situations, whether that means working directly with their brother or sister, or completing other tasks while their parents devote their attention to the other child. That’s really cool. Just remember to stay balanced, autism siblings; you can’t do everything, and you need to take some time for yourself every once in a while!
Perhaps some of the coolest aspects about many autism siblings, however, is their passion, loyalty, and devotion toward their brother or sister. If anyone bullies or messes with their brother or sister? Well, they’d better watch out because their siblings are NOT standing for it! One autism sister, Marissa, can personally vouch for that. In an NPR article, she recalls how she went after a bully who had thrown a rock at her brother, Andrew. “I smacked him across the face and he was cornered, and my face I’m sure was beet-red, and I was like, ‘Just do it again and I’ll punch you right in your mouth,'” she explained. “I was mad because no one can beat up my brother except me.”
Needless to say, autism siblings are very protective—not only toward their sibling, but also toward others who are a little different. They tend to be more cognizant of differences in other people, and therefore more compassionate. Many autism siblings are also passionate anti-bullying advocates—people the world desperately needs.