February 18, 2022


Pro Tips

Pro Tips: Building Relationships with Siblings

Pro Tips provided by Johanna Shaflucas M.S. Ed., BCBA, Clinical Coordinator of Behavioral Support, and Gretchen Abdulla, Supervising Clinician-Behavior Support.

Growing up with a sibling with autism can be a challenging and sometimes lonely experience. However, there are steps parents and caregivers can take to help foster relationships between children with autism and their siblings that can develop into a deep, nurturing bond. The tips below can help build these relationships over time.

1. Find common interests.

Set aside time for the whole family to engage in activities preferred by their child with autism as well as things that interest their siblings. Finding common interests between siblings can help spark a connection. Maybe the child with autism really enjoys eating, and their sibling likes to cook. Help them make a meal together by incorporating tasks the child with autism and their sibling can do together. Even small common interests can develop into a real bond between siblings.

2. Give compliments and affirmations.

Parents and caregivers can be role models in giving compliments for both children with autism and their siblings. Explain how giving a simple compliment or positive remark about the child with autism’s interests can make their day. Things that may not seem meaningful to their siblings may be incredibly meaningful to that child with autism. Having their brother or sister give them a compliment or show an interest in the things they like to do can make a world of difference.

If possible, teach the child with autism how to give compliments to their brother or sister. Parents and caregivers should also remember to compliment each child equally, so everyone feels they are receiving the same amount of praise and attention.

3. Set time aside for conversation.

Make time to have one-on-one, open discussions with the siblings. This gives them an opportunity to communicate their needs and vent their frustrations. Be understanding of their feelings and listen to their concerns.

For parents and caregivers, this is a great time to explain why their sibling with autism may engage in certain behaviors or how some situations can be overwhelming for them. It’s important to remember that all children have needs and that they are constantly growing and learning. A child’s perception and mindset will not be the same at age 25 as it is at 15.

4. Explain rules and provide guidance.

Rules may be very different for children with autism compared to their siblings, and this may not be something a sibling fully understands. Parents and caregivers should explain why there are these differences in the rules.

Explain that everyone has bad days and that it’s okay. Provide guidance to siblings on how they can appropriately interact with their brother or sister with autism, or how they should react if their sibling is behaving a certain way. Explain why their sibling might need space or quiet time.

5. Support groups and other resources.

There are many support groups for families of children with autism. These groups give families a place to share with others and can help siblings see that they’re not alone. They may even make connections with other people who are going through the same challenges they may be experiencing. Using age-appropriate books, movies, etc. to teach brothers and sisters about autism can also help them better understand their sibling with autism’s perspective.

Overall, siblings should be reminded that their brother or sister with autism are who they are and should be embraced, accepted, and loved. Remember, all relationships take time and patience to develop.