How to Talk to Your Child About an Autistic Sibling
While most adults understand how to deal with an autistic child, younger children don’t. Parents should explain to their child, who is normal, about autism and how to deal with his autistic sibling.
By Arun Sharma
One day, finding her 5-year-old son Suresh brooding, Gomati playfully enquired, “What is my little scientist thinking?”
Still immersed in his thoughts, Suresh asked, “Mama, why doesn’t my brother play with me like Ramu’s brother?”
Suresh’s question made Gomati freeze in her tracks. She thought for some time and then decided that it was time to explain to Suresh why his brother didn’t act or behave like siblings of other children.
Are you also a parent who is raising a normal child along with an autistic child? Does reading about what Gomati decided to do make you feel that you should also follow her example?
If so, then here’s how you can explain your autistic child’s behaviour to your unaffected child and help him understand his sibling better.
Explain what is autism: Discuss and explain to your child about autism. Tell your child that autism-affected children do things differently from others. For example, they take time to develop friends; they do not make eye contact; they sometimes show unusual behaviour like repeating a word or a sentence, or indulging in certain actions; they find it difficult to express their feelings and emotions, which can sometimes make them angry. This will help your child understand her sibling’s strange behaviour and decrease her confusion. It will make her more confident and creative about how to interact and deal with her sibling.
Help her get over the embarrassment: Children with autism tend to behave in strange ways, which can make your normal child feel embarrassed. Some of the autistic sibling’s actions that can embarrass an unaffected child are, covering the eyes, ears or face with hands; repeating or echoing certain words or phrases; waving or flapping of the hands; spinning or jumping; showing fidgety behaviour. Explain to your child that autistic children perform these actions because of difficulty in regulating their behaviour, resisting impulses or to soothe themselves.
Teach how to tackle behavioural issues: Autistic children tend to show challenging behaviours like biting, spitting, hitting, pinching, pushing, eating non-edible items, and attempting to cause self-injury. Most of the time, they indulge in these actions when they are unable to understand what is being told, experience sensory overload, or feel tired or unwell. Teach your normal child to speak to his autistic sibling in short and clear sentences to prevent sensory overload and confusion. Also, teach him to support and help his autistic sibling to communicate what he feels.
Educate him about meltdowns: Most autistic children experience meltdowns. A meltdown happens when the child is unable to control the intense unpleasant feelings that he is experiencing. During a meltdown, an autistic child can scream, shout, bite or indulge in other such actions. If you know what actions or conditions trigger a meltdown, ask your normal child to desist from doing things that can trigger meltdowns in his autistic sibling.
Guide her towards fostering a relationship: Children with autism do not tend to bond with those around them. So, when your unaffected child tries to play with her autistic sibling or bond with him, she might draw a blank. This can make your normal child feel confused and angry. So, find out activities that you can do together as a family and have fun like playing a board game or team games like cricket.
Encourage your child to talk to you: Dealing with an autistic sibling can sometimes cause stress to the normal child. So, encourage your child to speak to you and tell you how he feels. This will help him relieve the stress. It will also help you and your child come up with a plan to tackle any problem that could be the source of the stress.
Bringing up an autistic child alongside a normal child is a tough task for most parents. Things become more difficult when the age gap between the two siblings is less. However, by explaining to your normal child about his sibling’s condition, you can make his life a lot easier. However, if you feel that your child is unable to adjust with his autistic sibling, do seek the help of a professional.
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