Having a sibling on the autism spectrum can be confusing and frustrating at times, but with the right support and understanding of autism, it can also be lots of fun.

Younger Siblings

If you have a brother or sister with autism, you may notice he or she is different from you and your friends. They might also be treated differently by grown-ups. This can be difficult to understand and make you feel,

  • Confused
  • Frustrated
  • Jealous
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Overwhelmed

This might be because

  • Your brother or sister don’t get told off when you think they have been naughty
  • They seem to get more attention from your parents
  • They don’t seem to care about your feelings
  • They don’t understand the rules of games that you want to play with them
  • They get upset easily and you don’t know how to cheer them up

When your brother or sister does these things, they aren’t doing it on purpose to try and hurt or annoy you. They sometimes can’t help behaving this way, because of their autism. Also, because of their autism, they might need more help from your parents with things like getting dressed, having a bath or eating meals than you do. They are not trying to take the attention away from you, but some things that you find easy, they might find very difficult and confusing which is why they need mum or dad to help them.

You might feel like you don’t want to talk to your parents about how you are feeling in case it upsets them but it’s important to talk about how you feel so that your parents can help you to solve any problems you are having. If you have questions about your brother or sister’s autism, it is best to ask so that you can understand why they are how they are and help you to have a better relationship with them. Remember that your parents are there for you too, and everything you ask doesn’t have to be about your brother or sister, so if you have questions or worries about other things, you can talk to your parents about those too! You could also try talking to other people in your family or your teachers.

Understanding Autism

When adults talk about autism, it can get very confusing and be difficult to understand what autism actually means. By understanding autism, you might find that you can have a better relationship with your brother or sister. There are three main areas that people with autism can have problems with:

  • Communication - This means that they might have trouble talking and letting people know how they are feeling or what they want. This can make them feel frustrated and might be why they sometimes become angry or aggressive
  • Social Skills -  This means that they might not be able to make friends as easily as most children or understand how to behave in some places like at school or at a birthday party. Big groups of people or lots of noise can be very scary for them and they might not want to join in
  • Imaginative Thought -  This means that they might not understand that other people have their own feelings, so they might not realise when you are angry or upset. If they have done something to hurt or annoy you, they might not know that they are supposed to be sorry for it

There is no cure for autism and your brother or sister will have it for the rest of their life, but with the right support from the people around them, they can have a long and happy life.

How can I help?

  • If your brother or sister needs some time alone, give them some space and allow them to have some quiet time
  • Try to be calm and patient with them and remember that if they have done something to hurt you or your feelings, they probably didn’t mean to
  • Speak slowly and clearly to them. They might need to think about things you have said for a little while before they can properly understand them and react or reply to you

Adolescent Siblings

Having a sibling with autism can become easier as you get older and understand autism better and how it affects your brother or sister. There are however some issues that come up regularly with adolescent siblings.

Some people find that they are being targeted by bullies because they have siblings with autism. This might be due to a lack of understanding of what autism is. Talk to your parents or teachers if you are having trouble with bullies. It might help to work with your teachers to raise awareness of autism in your school. If the bullying is taking place outside of school, again let your parents know, and it might help for them to talk to the parents of the person responsible so that they are aware of it and might improve their understanding of autism.

Many teenagers with autistic siblings feel like they are left out of family life. This might be because the attention that your brother or sister’s autism demands means that you are sometimes left on your own, or perhaps you avoid spending time at home or keep yourself shut in your room. If it is getting you down, try to talk to your parents and and come up with some solutions together. Maybe inviting friends over will encourage you to spend more time at home, take advantage of times when you can have some quality time with your parents (if your sibling is at a respite scheme or staying with relatives, for example). Your brother or sister might not understand the concept of personal space or belongings and this might be a cause of contention between you that makes you want to stay out of the house. Work with your parents to try and help your brother or sister understand, such as a visual aid on your bedroom door or keeping your personal belongings somewhere that your brother or sister doesn’t have access to.

These issues can mean that you start to have negative thoughts about your sibling, which in turn might make you feel guilty and withdrawn. It’s important to talk freely about how you are feeling with your parents or a professional so that you can get the support you need.

Adult Siblings

Having a sibling with autism in adult life can mean that you feel you have more of a responsibility for their care and might start to have worries about their future. If your parents are getting to an age that they can’t be the primary care giver for much longer, it can be unnerving for you, as well as your brother or sister, because you are not sure what the best option is. It might be a good idea to have a family meeting to discuss the options and find out the wishes of your brother or sister. Keep notes so that you can refer back to them when the time comes to make a decision.

You may feel that you have a responsibility to care for your sibling, or maybe you are the only one in your family who can provide care for them. If this is the case, you might find it useful to contact your local social services department to find out what support you can get. It is also worth looking out for support groups, not just for your brother or sister, but for you as well. You may be eligible for a respite scheme which can give you a break from caring for your sibling.

For some people with autism, as they come into adulthood, they move into a residential care home. As their brother or sister, you might be worried about what this might entail and how it might affect them. Try to see it in a positive light; they are becoming an adult and this will give them an opportunity to become more independent and make new friends. It can also provide more support for you and your family as you might meet the families of other service users and share advice.