12 important needs of siblings and tips to address these needs
1. SIBLINGS NEED COMMUNICATION THAT IS OPEN, HONEST, DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE, AND ONGOING. Parents may need to deal with their own thoughts and feelings before they can effectively share information with siblings. Children may show their stress through their withdrawal or through inappropriate behaviors. Siblings may be reluctant to ask questions due to not knowing what to ask or out of fear of hurting the parent. While doing research on siblings, Sandra Harris found that developmentally appropriate information can buffer the negative effects of a potentially stressful event (Harris, 1994).
2. SIBLINGS NEED DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE AND ONGOING INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR SIBLINGS’ ASD. Anxiety is most frequently the result of lack of information. Without information about a siblings’ disability, younger children may worry about “catching” the disability and/or whether they caused it. The young child will only be able to understand specific traits that they can see,
like the fact that the sibling does not talk or likes to line up their toys.
3. SIBLINGS NEED PARENTAL ATTENTION THAT IS CONSISTENT, INDIVIDUALIZED, AND CELEBRATES THEIR UNIQUENESS. Many families make a major effort to praise and reward the child with the disability for each step of progress. This same effort should be considered for the siblings. Self-esteem is tied to this positive recognition by parents. Remember to celebrate everyone’s achievements as special.
4. SIBLINGS NEED TIME WITH A PARENT THAT IS SPECIFICALLY FOR THEM. SCHEDULE SPECIAL TIME WITH THE SIBLING ON A REGULAR BASIS. Time with the sibling can be done in various ways such as a 10 minute activity before bed or a longer period several times a week. The important thing is to schedule specific c “alone” time with a parent that siblings can count on.
5. SIBLINGS NEED TO LEARN INTERACTION SKILLS WITH THEIR BROTHER OR SISTER WITH ASD. Sandra Harris & Beth Glasberg (2003) offer guidelines for teaching siblings play skills to interact successfully with their brother or sister with ASD. Go slow and praise the sibling. Toys and activities should be age appropriate, hold both children’s interest and require interaction. Teach siblings to give instructions as well as prompts and praise to their brother or sister (Harris & Glasberg, 2003).
6. SIBLINGS NEED CHOICES ABOUT HOW INVOLVED THEY ARE WITH THEIR BROTHER OR SISTER. Be reasonable in your expectations of siblings. Most siblings are given some responsibility for their brother or sister with a disability. Show siblings you respect their need for private time and space.
7.SIBLINGS NEED TO FEEL THAT THEY AND THEIR BELONGINGS ARE SAFE FROM THEIR BROTHER OR SISTER WITH AUTISM. Some children with ASD can be destructive and hard to redirect. They can also be quick to push, bite, or engage in other challenging behaviors with the sibling as a target. Siblings must be taught how to respond in these situations. Parents should make every effort to allow siblings a safe space for important items and a safe retreat from their siblings’ aggressive behaviors.
8. SIBLINGS NEED TO FEEL THAT THEIR BROTHER OR SISTER IS BEING TREATED AS “NORMAL” AS POSSIBLE. Explain differential treatment and expectations that apply to the child with a disability. As they mature, siblings can better understand and accept the modifications and allowances made for the brother or sister with a disability. Make each child’s responsibilities and privileges consistent and dependent on ability. Be careful not to underestimate the ability of the child with ASD.
9. SIBLINGS NEED TIME TO WORK THROUGH THEIR FEELINGS WITH PATIENCE, UNDERSTANDING, AND GUIDANCE FROM THEIR PARENT(S) AND OR A PROFESSIONAL, IF APPROPRIATE. Listen and acknowledge what is being said. Validate the sibling’s feelings, both positive and negative, as normal and acceptable. Sharing your positive and negative emotions appropriately is also important. Remember parents are important models of behavior. Help siblings learn ways to cope with and manage their emotions.
10. SIBLINGS NEED OPPORTUNITIES TO EXPERIENCE A “NORMAL” FAMILY LIFE AND ACTIVITIES. If needed, draw on resources in the community both informal and formal. Some families are uncomfortable in asking for help. For the sake of everyone in the family, find and use resources available such as respite care services and other community programs for persons with disabilities and their families. Most families would be overwhelmed without some breaks from the ongoing demands of caring for children with a disability. Siblings and parents need opportunities for activities where the focus of energy is not on the child with special needs.
11. SIBLINGS NEED OPPORTUNITIES TO FEEL THAT THEY ARE NOT ALONE AND THAT OTHERS UNDERSTAND AND SHARE SOME OF THE SAME EXPERIENCES. Siblings need to know that others are growing up in similar family situations. Opportunities to meet other siblings and/or read about other siblings are very valuable. Some might benefit t from attending a sibling support group where they can talk about feelings and share a common understanding while also having opportunities for fun.
12. SIBLINGS NEED TO LEARN STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS FROM PEERS AND OTHERS IN THE COMMUNITY. Parents should help prepare siblings for possible reactions from others toward their brother or sister with a disability. Make sure the sibling has facts about ASDs. Discuss solutions to possible situations.