Raising a child with autism can be stressful and confusing, and the challenge is only amplified if you have more than one child, especially if one child is on the autism spectrum, but the other is neuro-typical. A “typical” child is still a child first and foremost, and while they may not have the behavioral problems of an autistic child, they still lack the understanding of the world that an adult has, and they still need attention, rest, and the chance to, well, be a child.
Sibling or Carer?
The job of providing autism care comes down primarily to you as a parent, and to any organizations helping with supported living arrangements. Your “typical” children will occasionally end up helping out, either watching their brother or sister while you’re taking care of a household emergency, keeping them entertained. At the same time, you’re driving, or helping them fend off bullies while they’re at school; however, they should not have too much responsibility pushed upon them.
Autistic children can demand a lot of attention, and it’s only natural that young children might see this extra attention as being unfair. If a child sees their brother or sister getting away with bad behavior (temper tantrums, for example), but they are held to a higher standard themselves, they may find it hard to understand the reason behind their sibling’s special treatment.
There’s not much you can do to combat this, other than sitting down and explaining the reason that their sibling behaves the way they do, and reminding them that you still care for them and that you don’t want them to feel left out, jealous, or un-cared for.
In addition to talking through the problem and reminding the child that negative feelings are reasonable and also healthy. If your typical child is upset or angry, let them vent, and don’t hold anything they say in anger against them.
Make sure that you provide your neuro-typical child with the opportunity to take some “time off” and have some quiet space to themselves. Give them a space in the house that is theirs, and theirs alone, where they can go when the stresses of dealing with their autistic sibling becomes too much. Also, set some time (perhaps one evening a week), when they can spend some quality time with you. At the same time, their autistic brother or sister is probably at an autism care group or attending a club related to one of their favorite activities. Don’t underestimate the value of a few hours of normality in their life.
Your neuro-typical child may not want to admit it, but they may struggle to cope with the challenges of being responsible for their brother or sister, even if they’re only helping out with small tasks. The extra responsibility can weigh heavily on them, especially if their school friends don’t understand. It may be worth speaking to your local supported living groups to see if they have support networks for the family members of people with learning disabilities. Sometimes, the opportunity to talk to someone that understands your situation can make it much easier to deal with it.