How do I balance the needs of typical siblings and a child with autism?

Robert Naseef and Cindy Ariel

Question: How Do I Balance the Needs of Typical Siblings and a Child with Autism?
How do I balance the needs of typical siblings and a child with autism? On the one hand my daughter is jealous at times that my son with autism gets extra attention from us each night with homework. And on the other hand my son is jealous that my daughter is allowed to work independently. Any suggestions?

Answer: From Dr. Bob Naseef
The good news is that both of your children have good points, and the bad news is that you and your husband are stuck in the middle. Many children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder like your son, and their families, find homework to be a major cause of anguish. Autism expert Tony Attwood writes about this problem on his web site.

Recently in our practice a 15 year old boy expressed frustration that his parents would not leave him alone while doing homework. I coached them to back off little by little and see if he got it done and if it was correct. Also take a look at Tony Attwood's article "Should children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder be exempted from doing homework?" on his web site. Sometimes a child's IEP needs modification to include more realistic homework assignments based upon individual stress and cognitive skills.

Your daughter, on the other hand or on the other end of the human spectrum, wants and needs attention even though she is independent with homework. Of course, this is a dilemma that parents have faced since Adam and Eve. It is virtually impossible to give attention that is perceived as equal by children. What your daughter may need now is validation that her perspective and feelings make sense. I recommend you read accounts by siblings of children with special needs about how the world looks from their shoes. Several very touching essays like this are included in Voices from the Spectrum.

From Dr. Cindy Ariel:
You are so right to stress the importance for all children to receive support and attention. This cannot always be accomplished in a totally equitable way but can be made up in other ways. Your daughter may always feel that your son receives more attention from you; he needs it more than she does.

You can be sensitive to your daughter's need for attention from you and give her extra attention when and where you can. You can check in with her even though you know all is well. She will appreciate your asking about her special projects, assignments of interest, science experiment, etc. Be sure to check in about something every day. You can also try to spend an hour with her doing something supportive of her once her homework is complete. Even sitting with her and reading while she focuses on homework will make your presence and attention felt.

At the same time, perhaps your son can begin to work alone for short periods. These periods can be as short as they have to be to ensure success - even one minute to start. Set a timer and see how much he can get done of something he will be successful at for 1, 5, 10 minutes or more. Perhaps he can handle more and more on his own. This will also benefit him and his growth into more independence. Working with your children in these ways will begin to help you feel more connected to both of them.

Robert Naseef, Ph.D., and Cindy Ariel, Ph.D., are the co-editors of "Voices from the Spectrum: Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, People With Autism, and Professionals Share Their Wisdom" (2006). On the web at Alternative Choices.

Courtesy of About, a NY Times Company

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