Having a sibling on the autism spectrum

Friendships

Friendships are valuable relationships as they provide companionship, recreation, help and guidance, and can help to counteract the stresses of life. Some people we spoke with said that having a sibling with ASD had complicated their friendships. Others explained that they had very supportive friends; in one case the friends were imaginary for several years.

Several people told their friends that their sibling was on the autism spectrum. For the most part it seemed that they simply wanted to share information about their lives with their friends. However, one felt he should explain it because he feared his friends would be “put off by it”. Another told them in order to protect her brother, who was sensitive to the reactions of others. Some chose to explain it in more detail than others. A couple said that they would “mention it”, but that it was not something that “comes up in conversation”, whilst some others explained to their friends exactly what their sibling was like. 

In general, people said that their friends were supportive and understanding. As one person said, “no one really thought anything different of it”. However, some said that their friends didn't understand the severity of their siblings’ autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). For one person, this was particularly difficult to manage because her brother didn't want her to discuss it with anybody. Another person found it tough when her friends asked her questions about her brother. She felt that they wanted to know how her life was different but, for her, life with a sibling on the spectrum was normal and she didn't want people to “feel sorry” for her.

What, when and how much people told their friends also varied depending on their age and the context. For instance, some didn’t talk to their friends about their siblings when they were younger, but it became easier to talk about when they grew older. One explained that she now finds her peers are more understanding. Some also said that it was difficult to tell new friends and that it was important to get to know people well before they told them. One person had only told her best friend. 

Some people said that their friends had established good relationships with their siblings. A couple said that they treated their brothers “as one of the lads” or thought they were “funny and adorable”. One actively tried to include her brother in her circle of friends. Another would have liked to, but her brother refused to communicate with them because he felt they talked about things that were “not worth talking about”.

A few people said that their friends were not sure “how to treat” their siblings or held negative views about them. These included being scared of them or making critical remarks about them, which, for one, resulted in “quite a few scuffles”. A couple of people felt that their social skills had been affected by growing up with their siblings. For example, one sibling often destroyed his sister’s possessions. As a result of this she didn't like sharing her things with her friends when she was a child. 

Several people said that their friendships were complicated by aspects of their sibling’s behaviour. For example, having friends round could be difficult because of limited space in their home or because their sibling couldn’t cope with people in the house and it would be unfair to “spring all of those people on him”. One person recalled her brother attacking a friend she had brought home. 

Not only was having friends round sometimes difficult, but, for some, going out with their friends was not easy because their siblings became upset if they saw them leaving the house. These constraints affected the potential friendships a few people felt they could have had when they were growing up.

For some, friends provided an insight into how life without a sibling on the autism spectrum could be. They found themselves comparing their sibling relationships with those of their friends.

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Last reviewed May 2015.

 

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