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Supporting Siblings of Individuals with Autism and Their Parents

Having a brother or sister with an autism diagnosis can be filled with unique experiences that can both strengthen the sibling bond and challenge that relationship.  Some siblings may experience:

  • Embarrassment around peers
  • Jealousy regarding amount of time parents spend with their brother/sister
  • Frustration over not being able to engage or get a response from their brother/sister
  • Being the target of aggressive behaviors
  • Concern regarding their parents’ stress

 Explain autism to your child in a way they can understand

It is very important to make sure siblings understand what autism is.  You will be having this conversation a lot with your children and will need to adjust the information to fit ages, stages, and understanding.  They will need explanations that help them to understand why their brother or sister behaves differently than they do. For helping younger children understand, these resources may be helpful:

  • Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism, by Laurie Lears
  • My Brother Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete
  • Looking after Louis, by Lesley Ely
  • All About My Brother, by Sarah Peralta
  • Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters With Autism, by Fiona Bleach
  • Leah’s Voice, by Lori Demonia

Additionally , Autism Speaks Siblings Guide to Autism  is an excellent resource for siblings trying to understand and connect with their brother or sister with autism, and to understand some of the struggles and concerns they may have as a sibling of someone with Autism.

Carve out time and attention so that your child doesn’t feel overshadowed by their sibling with autism.

Decide which  activities are important to you that  should be shared by the entire family and which  activities that do not have to be “the whole family”. Create some regularly scheduled special time for each child.   For example: Don’t feel guilt, if your child with ASD is not able to sit through a school assembly; don’t force him along to his siblings’ concert. It will be too stressful for everyone in the family.

Allow your child to express their feelings.                                                                                                              

It can be difficult to understand some of the behaviors demonstrated by individuals with Autism, such as aggression, self – injury or making noises other people their age may not. They may even ignore or reject attempts to play and engage with their brother or sister.  Let your child know that it is okay to be frustrated, angry, or stressed and that you can work on these feelings together.

Encourage and foster the sibling relationship.

Make sure your neuro-typical children understand their sibling’s abilities, preferences and interests, so that they can make positive connections.  Share what you have learned so that siblings can be mentors. Teach them how to provide praise and reinforcement when their sibling with autism does “the right thing” ~ such as paying attention to them or  following a direction.  Show them how to support their sibling with autism  when they have difficulty doing something.  When utilizing communication tools, such as PECS or sign language, include your child in the learning process so they can communicate and understand the communicative attempts of their sibling with autism.    

RESOURCES FOR SIBLINGS AND PARENTS   The Organization for Autism Research (OAR:

Brothers, Sisters, and Autism: A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Siblings 

Life as an Autism Sibling: A Guide for Teens

Autism, My Sibling, and Me (coloring book for young children)

SibTeen, an online Facebook group for teen siblings:

SibNet online forum for adults:


Organization for Autism Research (OAR). (2014). Brothers, sisters and autism: A parent’s guide to supporting siblings

Weiss, M. J. & Pearson, N. (2016). Clinical Corner: How to manage the impact of child with a disability on siblings. Science in Autism Treatment, 13(2), 22-26.

Home – Autism Society ( Sandra Harris, Ph.D., professor emerita at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology and executive director of the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers University.

Spectrum | Autism Research News Siblings of children with autism have social, emotional problems BY JESSICA WRIGHT 11 OCTOBER 2018

Stacey Ratner, LBA/BCBA, SBL, SDL is the Chief Clinical Compliance Officer at Family of Kidz.

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