Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Siblings

It was clear from the parents we talked with that having a sibling or siblings on the autism spectrum affected children both positively and negatively. Many of the children had a typical love/hate relationship with their siblings but they took responsibility for their brothers or sisters who had autism, and became more understanding of different ways of behaving. The provision of sibling support groups and activities could help to counter negative elements of perhaps not having the attention they would like, or missing out on typical family outings.

Relationship between siblings
Parents talked about how much their children loved each other and how most of the siblings got on well, with some fighting and falling out, as with siblings generally. One mother said of her daughter, “Generally speaking I think she just thinks he is an irritating little brother and while she loves him to bits and is really proud of the different things he has done, she just gets annoyed sometimes with him”. Some children found it difficult to play with their brother or sister when they tended to be very rigid about how games should be played. One mother described how difficult it was for her children to play together as her child on the autism spectrum expected his brother to be as easy to control as his toys were. However many parents were impressed by how well their neurotypical children got on with their siblings (see 'Fears, anxieties, sensory issues and meltdowns’).

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Effect on neurotypical siblings
Many parents talked about how having a sibling on the autism spectrum had made their children more compassionate, kind and empathetic than they might otherwise have been. They were protective of their brothers or sisters and took responsibility for them when they were away from home - at school or in the park. Some parents talked about how good their children’s friends were and how they looked out for their children too. In some cases their experiences seemed to have influenced their later choice of career. For example, one father's grown up daughter now had a job working “with children with problems”.

Some parents felt that siblings had been affected negatively by having a brother or sister on the autism spectrum. They described how their children felt left out because their sibling got so much attention or that their sibling’s behaviour sometimes embarrassed them.

In some cases, children had not been able to have friends round to play because their brother or sister could become aggressive or find it too much to cope with. Some parents had to take the children out separately which meant that there could be few ‘family’ activities (see ‘Strategies for going out’). One couple's older son tended to take responsibility for his younger brother’s behaviour and it was often easier to blame him for any tensions.

Some siblings attended young carer groups and parents thought these were a good place for their children to mix with other children with similar experiences and be able to talk about their feelings to mentors or professionals.

Having two or more children on the spectrum
Several parents we talked with had more than one child with autism. These parents were struck by how different their children were from each other. For example, one brother might be very outgoing and confident while the other brother was very quiet, anxious or very laid back. As one mother said; “I’m always amazed at how two children who came from the same gene pool can be so totally different.”

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Some parents with more than one child on the spectrum talked about how close their children were. As one mother said; “Together the boys are immensely close. I mean they really care about each other and they are each other’s best friends I would say”.

For more on siblings experiences of autism see our section 'Having a sibling on the autism spectrum'.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated November 2012.

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