“Mommy, Justin’s praying again” my almost eleven-year-old tells me as he heads upstairs, and as I look behind me in the foyer I see he’s right. His older brother Justin, who is fourteen and severely autistic, has been having “staring spells” for the past two months, and in order to reduce our youngest son’s anxiety levels over what his brother is doing we’ve called it “praying.”
Honestly, that is exactly what his parents are doing.
Since Zach is the youngest in our family he has grown up knowing only what it’s like to have a severely disabled older sibling, and to some extent for Zach this atypical behavior is normal.
Zach has seen a lot of difficulties with Justin over the years. His elder sibling has had bouts of aggression and extreme OCD behavior that have been very disruptive to our family life. His dad and I try our best not to let Justin dictate our lives, but sometimes it’s impossible not to give his needs precedence. Fortunately we’ve been pretty successful at keeping things stable for Zach- here are some of the ways we’ve been able to do that.
1) Talk to your child about what is going on with his or her autistic sibling. Whether they’re talking to you about what’s going on or not, they are certainly aware if things are stressful in your home. Keeping open the lines of communication is key.
2) If your neurotypical child has an activity to go to, have a back-up plan if your autistic child might thwart that plan. Over the years I’ve created a network of people who can ferry Zach back and forth to activities. I don’t hesitate to call upon them if my husband isn’t home to watch Justin and I’m not sure I can get him in the car to take Zach somewhere. People generally like to help, take them up on their offers.
3) Research possibilities for your other child to talk to a professional. Sometimes the behavior your autistic child’s sibling will witness from your autistic child can be confusing and disturbing, and they may not want to talk to you about it. Having that professional’s name handy if the time comes for your child to talk to someone will be very helpful.
4) Plan a day with your child without his or her autistic sibling. We have one day a year where my husband and I do something fun for an entire day, just the three of us. Our youngest looks forward to it every year, it’s a great chance to connect.
5) Make sure you and your spouse get a break from autism. The best way you can help your autistic child’s sibling is to be happy, healthy, and present for him or her. Make sure you are taking care of yourself as well as your children.
I hope these suggestions help!
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