How Family Counseling for Autism Improves Sibling Relationships
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of conditions in which an individual has difficulty with social interactions and communication. Disabilities and behavioral issues may be present as well. Children with ASD thrive on carefully constructed schedules and have targeted interests and hobbies often not shared by others. Sensory disorders are common within the autism spectrum, often creating a strong reaction to seemingly harmless physical contact. Disruption of schedules and anticipated comfort or behavior can result in severe outbursts that can last for hours.
Sibling relationships develop early and are among the longest occurring family bonds. As young children, siblings are the most easily accessible playmates. The bond between siblings is strengthened through communication as children grow. If siblings can’t understand how to communicate early, stress and resentment can develop.
Families with an autistic child are put under a significant amount of stress working to meet that child’s unique needs. ASD types vary widely. Diagnosis and treatment can be difficult and time-consuming, taking up a large chunk of the family’s time. Emotional outbursts can quickly derail an outing or family schedule. Siblings often show a remarkable amount of empathy and compassion for a brother or sister with ASD. However, they face unique challenges at school and home they might not share.
Building Sibling Relationships
Family therapy is designed to improve communication within the family. Since autism disorders are directly associated with difficulty understanding social cues and reacting to emotions, a child with autism may seem distant to his siblings. Young siblings may feel rejected in attempts to play with a child with ASD.
Aba therapy is a proven method of teaching better behavior to children with ASD. Family therapy can combine these methods with education for siblings to help them gain a better understanding of the feelings of their brother or sister. Family therapists can help siblings learn ways to communicate and play together without outbursts. Education about autism can also help siblings understand how to respond to negative situations about their brother or sister at school.
Autistic children often see typical siblings as role models. Strong sibling relationships can help ASD children develop better social and behavioral skills. While children with ASD often complete activities alone, they do desire friendships. Learning to maintain equal roles in peer relationships is often difficult for autistic children. Improved sibling relationships are integral in teaching the right behaviors to maintain friendships.
A Better Understanding of Individual Feelings
Siblings clearly understand the increased needs of a brother or sister with ASD. They are a front row observer to the unique challenges their sibling faces daily. It’s not uncommon for a typical child to feel guilty voicing any complaints or disappointments she may be facing due to her sibling’s condition.
ASD conditions vary widely. Symptoms may be mild enough to barely affect regular household life, or severe enough to require a strict family schedule. Typical children observe the additional stress their parents face and are reluctant to add to the burden. There are often no friends who can truly understand the situation, leaving siblings with no one to talk to. Internalizing these feelings can be emotionally damaging.
Family therapy gives siblings an opportunity to talk to another adult who closely understands all of the difficulties of the situation. When children are encouraged to explore their feelings, parents who are present benefit from the knowledge. Often, family therapy can open new communication between typical children and parents. Families can then work together to find unique ways to solve individual problems.
Stress and Anxiety Management
Siblings of children with autism automatically face more daily stress. Typically, the stress is related to concerns surrounding others in the family instead of himself. Management of stress is difficult without the knowledge of certain coping techniques. Some common stressors include:
- Worries for the sibling with ASD. It is common for children to see their siblings in every type of situation. They understand at an early age how their brother or sister functions differently from other children. It is common to worry about how certain situations will affect the autistic sibling.
- Additional responsibilities. Since the workload of the entire family is increased, it is natural for children to take on additional responsibilities at a young age.
- Parent relationships. The diagnosis, treatment, and care of a child with ASD can take a major toll on parent relationships. The divorce rate is higher among parents of children with ASD.
- Surviving the unique schedule of a sibling with ASD. Diagnosis and treatment require many time-consuming visits to doctors and specialists. Children with ASD often cannot handle long trips, sometimes have unusual sleeping patterns, and have bad days which can affect the entire family. These issues can cause stress and disappointment for typical siblings.
These stressors are contributors to emotional issues that occur in siblings of children with ASD. It is common for siblings to become withdrawn or suffer from depression or anxiety.
Family therapy can address these common concerns and advise siblings with coping methods and solutions. Learning about their brother or sister’s condition can help relieve worries. When parents become aware of things typical children may be missing, they can create solutions. One-on-one time with a parent can open new opportunities for typical siblings to participate in different activities. Healthy stress relief can be instituted if the family schedule becomes too stressful. This might include time with another family member for a break. Family therapy can help each family member properly address stressful issues and find the right solutions.
Communication is the key to building strong family relationships. When you are faced with a condition that naturally limits the ability to interact with others, professional help can get things back on track. Pairing aba therapy with family therapy can help the family work together to meet everyone’s needs.
Strong sibling relationships are important to good mental health. They are the building blocks for communication and long-term friendships with other children and create a lasing bond throughout life. Siblings facing autism are reliant on these relationships will into adult life. These bonds should be preserved and strengthened whenever possible.