Autism Siblings Want Help (and might have questions too!)
“Does your neurotypical child have questions about their sibling’s Autism? We’d like to make this subject an easy, comfortable, and FUN process to engage in with our children. So let’s see how we can make this important conversation enjoyable for you and your child with new perspectives and honest sharing.
“Here are some questions or statements that parents (we work with) have heard from their neurotypical children, followed by some Son-Rise Program perspectives parents can offer to their children…
‘Someone at school said that my Brother is weird.’
“When someone calls your Brother names that seem unkind, it means they certainly do not know about how amazing he is. They are trying to make sense of something they do not understand and might feel uncomfortable about. What someone says about your Brother, is not a representation of him, but it is a representation of the person making this statement. They do not really know your Brother, and do not understand why he behaves in the way that he does…
“We can explain to those people, why your Brother behaves differently. Help them understand that many of his behaviors have to do with him helping himself, soothing, and calming himself; because he experiences overstimulation more often than other people do. When people have a better understanding of a situation, they are less likely to judge it.
“We are all different, and different is wonderful! Imagine if everybody was good at math and no one was good at spelling. We would live in a world with no good books to read! Imagine if everyone was really good at bike riding but no one could drive a car… We would have to do everything by bike, including transporting food to faraway places.
“The fact that your Brother is different, will help him have unique qualities and strengths in life that other people do not have. He might be especially gifted at playing music or creating new computers, or remembering dates and people’s names. Those qualities can really help all of us, who might not be as good with those skills. The more diverse a community is the more qualities and different abilities people will have to share with each other.
‘Why doesn’t my Sister like to play with me?’
“Your sister engages with people differently than you. It is not that she does not like to play with you. Playing with kids can be hard for her. The way she sees hears, and feels the world and the people around her might seem like it’s ten or twenty times louder, and more intense than it is for you… Sometimes she might want to play with you, but she does not yet know how to do this. Or, sometimes she might want to play with you, but the noises and the movements around her feel too overwhelming for her. It is like if you were in a very busy airport with lots of people talking all at the same time at you, and you wanted to talk to them, but you just could not quite do it, because there was too much noise and too many people. You would need a break away from all the people before you could process everything that was happening around you. So even though you want to play, it is easier to do it from a distance or do it for small bits at a time.
“I think she would love to play more with you one day, and we want to help her get there, but for right now. It is OK that she is not ready; you can play with her in bits when she shows you that she can do that. You have other people to play with, your friends and cousins – so you are really lucky because you have other people.
‘Why do you and Mom spend more time with my Brother than with me?’
“You and your Brother have different needs and are at different levels in how you engage with the world and the people around you. For you, it is easier to make friends, talk to people, and pay attention to a teacher, [or list whatever that is true for your particular child]. Your Brother still needs to be in an environment that is calmer and more predictable, so he can learn the skills that he needs to be able to do the things that you do more easily. The best people to help your Brother right now with his challenges are your Mom and me. While you have so many other people in your life – your teacher, your friends, and your Taekwondo teacher; your Brother is calmer and can learn a lot more when with your Mom or me.
“Now, do you know what? Being you is great too! Because on the other hand, you get to do things that are fun for you that your Brother does not do yet. [List here all the things that your neurotypical child gets to do, that his Brother with autism does not do yet.] For example, you go to Taekwondo, you sleep over at Grandma’s house, you do not need to be on a special diet, you have friends and go to birthday parties, etc. Both have their advantages – and each of you is getting what helps you most with where you are now…
“There are great advantages to being you! Always know that Mom and I love you hugely, just as much as we love your Brother!
“As a parent or caregiver, we want to be mindful about what we believe to be ‘hard’ for our neurotypical children about their sibling on the Autism Spectrum. Because whatever we believe, we will be ‘selling’ to them as a perspective to hold.
“Additionally, we would want to help everyone who engages with our special children to have a deep understanding of them. This includes their neurotypical siblings. The more they understand, the more compassion they will have and the easier it will be all the dynamics between them.”
Camila Titone, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher