Ask Alli: What I’ve Learned from Raising Siblings, a Neurodiverse Son and a Neurotypical Daughter

With Thanksgiving and large family gatherings approaching for many, I think this is a great time to look introspectively and appreciate the things I have learned from and love about my family.

I love that my son with autism does not judge me and accepts me as I am. This is beautifully unique to children with autism. I am thankful for all the lessons I have learned from my son, including being more open-minded and letting go of the need for perfection. I am grateful for the life lessons my son with autism has taught his sibling too. Siblings of a child with autism are often more mature, tolerant, loyal, and empathic.

Siblings are lifelong companions. But when one sibling is neurodiverse that sibling bond can sometimes feel frayed. Here are tips I learned raising my neurodiverse son and neurotypical daughter.

Make time for both kids

When you are a parent to a child with autism, you find yourself barely keeping up between work, household responsibilities, medical appointments, therapy appointments, special diets… and the list goes on. With all of these added responsibilities, it can sometimes feel that any neurotypical children get lost in the shuffle. It is important to make time each day to do at least one thing with each child. Taking just ten minutes for focused and undistracted one-on-one time to play a game, go for a walk, read their favorite bedtime story or even cook their favorite meal can improve emotional health and resilience.

Try to find a shared interest

I have found that finding common ground and a special hobby or interest that your children can do together can be incredibly fulfilling for both siblings and rewarding to see as a parent. Look for opportunities to engage in activities that all siblings can enjoy, such as going on walks, playing video games, or even just silently sitting in the same room and watching a movie. When you find these shared interests, model, encourage, and reinforce your children when they do these activities together! The activities they share in childhood can build the foundation for a lifetime of mutually enjoyable leisure activities.

Identify activities for the whole family

Spending time together as a whole family can help build self-confidence and adaptability. A little together time can go a long way towards fostering stronger connections and shared experiences between siblings. There are many family bonding activities that are free or low cost that you can plan together this Thanksgiving season, such as ice skating, bonfires with s’mores, playing board games, visiting a museum, or doing crafts. Cooking and eating together for the holidays is a great way to increase siblings' cooperation, negotiation, and sharing. My family loves to take hikes together in the local parks.

Celebrate everyone’s gifts and accomplishments

When you are raising more than one child, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made. Sometimes this comes from extended family, friends, or co-workers. However, it is important to make your home one where you don’t compare achievements but celebrate each and every one! Every significant milestone should be celebrated, whether it is doing well on a test or being able to sit through a movie without interruptions; both are great achievements and deserve recognition alongside an appropriate level of praise.

Therapy has a lot of benefits

When a sibling has a brother or sister who learns differently, the sibling can experience a wide range of emotions, including anger, happiness, resentment, acceptance, and guilt. They are often fiercely protective of their neurodiverse sibling(s). Even if the neurotypical sibling has a strong social support system, this can be a lot for them to carry and process. As a parent, talking with neurotypical siblings about autism can be difficult, and we don’t always know what to say or how to say it. Our therapy team can help you determine what is developmentally appropriate and how that dialogue can continue and change over time.

Often the whole family can benefit from support when a child is diagnosed with autism. Some parents benefit from talking to other parents who understand the challenges and joys of having a child with autism. This can occur spontaneously or as part of a parent support group. Siblings often report that their friends do not understand what they are going through and find solace in sibling support groups or through friendships with children who also have neurodiverse siblings.

Are you interested in our sibling therapy or another one of our evidenced-based individualized therapy supports? Contact Alli Frazier’s company Frazier Behavioral Health, a behavioral health clinic that focuses on the person and helps children and adults with behavioral, social, communication and sensory issues at FrazierBH.com/Scene.

Can’t get enough of Ask Alli? Check out next month's article in the December 8 issue of the Cleveland Scene, and if you missed the Ask Alli TV segment, you can find it on Facebook.com/FrazierBehavioralHealth.

Scroll to read more Paid Content articles

Newsletters

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.