Often parents of children with autism and siblings struggle on various levels with guilty feelings of spending more time with one child than the other and some can see behaviours such as attention seeking and other behavioural challenges develop because of this.
Siblings of those with autism have a wonderful learning opportunity to become wonderful caring people in society, with a much better understanding of challenges of life, how people work, develop empathy and are more compassionate.
They tend to be more mature and helpful but we need to acknowledge that they are still children and respect that.
My take on developing a healthy family life involves a few rules to follow:
1. Structure in quality time with EACH child as often as you can. What works for each family will be different but could be anything from 10 minutes/ 1 hour a day each – 1 hour a day 2 times a week.
2. Set a schedule around this and make it visible to everyone in the family so everyone knows when it is their time and when not to interrupt someone else’s time.
3. Set limits that there are to be no interruptions so that everyone respects this time. You may need to have something in place to occupy the other child or another adult to supervise them.
4. BE PRESENT in every moment you spend with that child. There is no point scheduling in time to be with a child and then letting your mind wander about other things when you are there.
As well as structuring the quality time with each child there will be many opportunities for interaction with all of your children at the same time.
The one key to making this time together a success is:
ROLES! ROLES! ROLES!
When you ensure that each person is responsible for a role within the larger framework of an activity / interaction, it helps everyone work well together more successfully.
Example – Baking a cake
One child passes ingredients to the other to put into bowl
Take it in turns to stir the mixture for count of 10 (if the structure is required)
One child spoons mixture and other child uses spoon to drop into cases
These roles can be swapped so that it’s ‘fair’ or change them around on the next activity they do together. Always aim for equal partnership as much as possible so that one person isn’t doing more than the other.
Depending on the level of your child’s abilities you may also give your self a role with in the interaction OR you may decide it is more useful to facilitate and scaffold both children as necessary.
Benefits of providing roles:
· Each person is clear what their role is and therefore develop competence
· Shared responsibility
· Roles can compliment each other
· Avoid disagreements about who is doing what
· Avoid children taking over and doing too much leaving little for others
· Roles can be swapped
· You can provide suitable scaffolding to each person as required
· Sense of team-work is promoted
There is a certain amount of planning that is required to ensure that your interactions go smoothly. Here, we are going to go through a few steps on breaking it down.
How to break it down into little parts to make it work:
1. Choose an activity
- E.g. gardening – potting plants
2. Chop the activity up into chunks / jobs that need to be done
- E.g. emptying pot, putting soil in, taking plants out, putting plants in new pot, putting soil around plant, watering plant, positioning plant
3. Decide who will do what
- E.g. both can empty pot at the same time (it’s a big one they will need to coordinate their actions together)
- Putting soil in – two shovels they can take it in turns
- Taking plants out of tray (guide to do because can be tricky)
- One child puts plant in soil and the other puts soil around plant
- One child fills watering can up and gives to other child to water plant
- Both can carry finished pot together to put where guide directs
4. Think about the support you may need to provide each child to succeed in their role
E.g. – due to coordination may need to guide how best to shovel soil. May also need to support filling watering can up
5. Consider the preparation before you start the activity that you may need to do
E.g. – Have plants ready and near by. Open up soil bag and find two shovels, make sure there is a watering can available and that the sink / tap is free.
If you would like to learn more about how I can help you develop the relationship dynamics within your family and guide you to a more harmonious home life with siblings, while also addressing developmental concerns please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a free Discovery Session