Supporting Siblings of Children with Autism

by Hedda Meadan, Ph.D.

Two young siblings embracing
Twins Hugging Brothers, Pixabay.com, CC0

In our recent webinar “What Do We Know: Autism Screening, Diagnosis, and Supporting Young Children and Families” we discussed the increasing prevalence of autism in the US and common red flags for autism. We also addressed strategies for partnering with and supporting families with children with autism.

All family members should be respected, valued, and supported. Siblings of children with autism need to feel informed as well as other family members.  Siblings should be encouraged to advocate for their needs and the needs of their sibling with autism. Learning how to relate to or interact with their sibling with autism may be another area in which support is needed.

Guide Books and Tool Kits

The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) developed three guidebooks to validate the experiences of siblings, help siblings understand their responsibilities, and identify helpful strategies to address challenges.

Autism Speaks provides a tool kit for siblings on their website. The Sibling’s Guide to Autism: An Autism Speaks Family Support Tool Kit is designed to help children learn about autism and ways they can support their sibling with autism as well as themselves.  Stories from siblings of a child with autism are also included throughout the book.

Support Programs

Programs for siblings such as the Sibling Support Project help local communities start Sibshops– peer support groups for school-age brothers and sisters of children with special needs.

Children’s Books

There are also many children’s books available to support siblings of children with disabilities, including autism that may be helpful.

  • HANDS in Autism
    This training and resource center extends the work of the Christian Sarkine Autism Treatment Center at Riley Hospital at Indiana University Health and the Indiana University School of Medicine.  One of their Pinterest boards is devoted to books for siblings related to autism.
  • American Psychological Association
    The APA also provides a list of books for children related to autism.
  • Sibling Support Project
    This organization provides a list of resources that includes books to support siblings of children with autism.
  • The Sibling Slam Book
    This book, geared towards teens, was a finalist for a 2006 Independent Publishers Book Award. In it, teens read and answer personal questions specifically about having a sibling with a disability.

Sesame Street

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Sesame Street recently introduced Julia’s family. Julia, the orange-haired, twinkly-eyed character with autism joined Sesame Street online in 2015 and became a part of the television show in 2017. The family includes Julia’s older brother, Sam, her mom, Elena, her dad, Daniel, and her dog, Rose.

Sesame Street’s autism initiative website, See Amazing in All Children, offers three new videos featuring Julia’s family, an interactive game, and articles with tips for parents, families, siblings, and friends.

In the video below, the character Abby Cadabby is sad.  Sam, Julia’s brother, suggests they give Abby a starfish hug.  He explains, “Starfish hugs are awesome! Because Julia has autism she doesn’t like big hugs so we do starfish hug instead.”

Exploring these resources may help caregivers identify what will be most helpful for siblings of children with autism.  Do you know of other resources to support siblings of children with autism?  Leave us a comment below!

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