In a time like this where change is inevitable, some autistic children need constant support at home that many parents are not able to provide because of work or various home responsibilities. Whether it is a change of schooling, lack of a set schedule, or event cancellations, Autistic children are facing great challenges with their constantly changing routines. While parents are dealing with the stressors of adult life, a sibling at home can ease the anxiety and tension these children feel. Many teenagers and adults do not know how to support their autistic sibling, even though they can be a valuable resource at home. A close-knit relationship can promote greater emotional well-being, certainty, and provide the structure children or teens need at this time. After reflecting on my experience with my brother, here are some tips to support and become best friends with your sibling with Autism.
- Engage with them about a topic of choice. People with ASD tend to fixate on their favorite subjects. Whether it is reading their favorite book or watching their favorite movie together, these activities allow the individual to express their feelings through their lens. Allowing them to share their favorite thing with you, the experience promotes trust and openness. Be prepared to watch anything from The Polar Express to The Great Gatsby and learn about all the actors involved.
- Schedule times for bonding activities or exercise together. As stated before, these activities are crucial to promoting trust with your sibling. However, your siblings appreciate the time spent more if it is set in their routine and expected. It allows them to feel like you are meant to be a part of their routine and not just an interruption. Studies show that exercise is a way to combat heightened feelings of stress or outbursts for autistic children. A few simple (and free) recommendations include taking a walk around your block, following Just Dance videos on Youtube, or following yoga tutorials from sites like Lululemon.
- Learn various calming techniques. You can purchase various packs of sensory toys on Amazon, which are meant to ease anxiety and promote focus. If your sibling participates in ABA services or receives teletherapy, mimic the activities from sessions at home. You can always reach out to their provider to learn more about these activities, and they may be able to assist you with various calming techniques to implement at home. “Take a deep breath” doesn’t just apply when you are feeling stressed. Counting back from 10 or diaphragmatic breathing can be a simple way to prevent outbursts.
- Be patient when introducing new activities or new directions. Preface new activities with an explanation or context about them, so the child is familiar with new rules and is not worried about introducing something new. The more familiar and close you are with your sibling, the more willing they become to try new things.
- Just have fun. This may seem like a simple tip, but the spontaneous moments are usually the most memorable. At the end of the day this is a personal relationship, so take in all the time you have together. Autistic children express their emotions in various ways, so getting strawberry ice cream at 8 p.m. or helping them find a game they are missing can mean the world to your sibling.
While this is a difficult time for us all, we would all love to have support at the end of the day. Being supportive of your sibling and being close with an autistic sibling can be a rewarding experience. By learning more about ASD and the Autism spectrum, you can be a greater support to autistic people. You are not expected to be perfect in your approach while helping autistic children and there are various resources, therapists, and professional providers to assist in this journey. In these unpredictable times, you will always have the support of your built-in best friend.
Zoe Schneider is a Mathematics student at Drexel University who advocates for her teenage brother with Autism. Her passion comes from her experience assisting her brother and hopes to promote positive relationships in the Autism community.