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Empathy Activities for Siblings of Autistic Children

Empathy Activities for Siblings of Autistic Children

Approximately 1 in 36 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and autism affects families of every race and socioeconomic group.

Parenting an autistic child is challenging, but it’s important to remember that their siblings need help as well. Siblings are just learning to operate in the world themselves and may not have the maturity or skills adults have in relating to their autistic brother or sister.

Fortunately, you can help your autistic child’s siblings understand more about their brother or sister and how to relate to them in loving and kind ways. Encouraging a positive relationship can also help your autistic child with social skills, as neurotypical siblings can be excellent role models.

Here are some conversations and activities that can help your autistic child and neurotypical sibling bond and understand each other better.

Explain that Differences are OK

One of the first things you can teach your autistic child and their siblings is that people are different, and that’s OK. You can explain to neurotypical siblings that their autistic brother or sister struggles to use their words sometimes or can get overwhelmed by a lot of noise.

Understanding differences makes your children more empathetic and helps them accept all differences — whether related to autism or not. Whether people have different customs, cultures, races, or other identities, your children will be more accepting because of their experiences with an autistic sibling.

Teach Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness, or being fully present in the moment, and meditation, which focuses on a particular thought or activity, are enormously beneficial to people of every age.

Mindfulness can reduce stress, which is an important skill for autistic children and their neurotypical siblings. Being fully present in the moment can help avert a panic attack due to overwhelming thoughts and emotions that kids don’t know how to fully address.

Practicing meditation can also help siblings stay focused and approach challenges more effectively. Some of the benefits include lower stress levels, improved sleep, better moods, and even better physical health. You can teach children to focus on their breath or incorporate your faith tradition into meditation — there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

Encourage Musical Expression

Music seems to have a way of reaching deeper than our minds, helping us feel better and express ourselves without words. When it comes to autistic children and their siblings, playing instruments and using songs to express themselves can be a powerful way to build connections.

Playing in the band or orchestra is often supported by schools, and instruments may be available for affordable rent or purchase. The mental health impact of playing an instrument is significant: musical training can make the brain better able to adapt, heal, and learn. Being involved in a band or orchestra can also reduce stress and improve listening and reading skills.

Even if your children don’t continue playing music as adults, the positive impact of playing an instrument growing up is long-lasting.

Let them Cook Together

Cooking together is a valuable chance for siblings to grow in empathy and understanding. This hands-on activity allows neurotypical siblings to directly experience the sensory challenges their autistic sibling might face, like texture or sound sensitivities, deepening their appreciation for each other’s unique qualities.

Key skills such as patience and clear communication are crucial in the kitchen, fostering empathy. Neurotypical siblings learn to patiently guide their autistic sibling, particularly when learning new tasks or needing more time, thereby strengthening their bond.

Adapting the cooking environment to the autistic child’s needs is also vital. This may involve using quieter appliances and avoiding strong odors or certain textures, helping neurotypical siblings create an inclusive space. These efforts not only deepen empathy but also enhance their relationship through teamwork and shared experiences.

Be Prepared for Multiple Conversations

As your children grow up, they may have more questions about their autistic siblings. Be ready to talk about autism, but emphasize that your autistic child isn’t solely defined by their diagnosis.  Also, understand that the increased attention you spend on an autistic child may cause siblings to feel left out or less important, and it’s essential to address these feelings.

Sometimes the family’s experiences are limited because of the autistic child’s needs, and that can cause resentment from siblings. If that’s happening, consider specific trips with the neurotypical siblings so they can be involved in more activities.

Care for Yourself and Others

Having an autistic child can present unique challenges for everyone in the family, so it’s important as a parent to take care of yourself first and foremost. Make sure you have time to decompress, rest, and spend time doing what you enjoy.

From there, remember that your autistic child’s siblings may struggle as well. Help them understand that differences are OK and use the strategies in this article to encourage sibling bonding and empathy. Most of all, be ready for multiple conversations as your children grow through different phases in school and life.


Indiana Lee is a writer from the Pacific Northwest with a personal commitment to shedding light on important issues surrounding autism. Outside of writing, she enjoys the outdoors, reading, and jigsaw puzzles. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

 

The post Empathy Activities for Siblings of Autistic Children first appeared on Organization for Autism Research.

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