I have a child with autism. How do I make sure my other kids don’t feel neglected?

Jeremy and Diane were married right after graduating college. Devout members of their small community church, the couple was surrounded by many large families, which inspired the couple to have their own.

“We wanted five, six kids,” admits Diane, who’s now a stay-at-home to the couple’s five children. “We just envisioned this big, happy household, and lots of friends always coming around, and you know, having a big old party every day!”

With four boys and one girl, the couple already has their hands full. But add to that fact that their two oldest children, Jack and Jamie, were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, both at the age of two – and it’s evident just how busy the couple really is.

“They’re both just the loveliest children, and maybe this is terrible to say, but because we had one, two kids right from the start with the challenges you’ll see on the spectrum, it was like, ‘Okay, this whole package, this whole deal is just what parenting is,’” says Jeremy. “That’s not to say this has been easy by any stretch of the imagination. But we either complain or we enjoy, and we’re choosing to enjoy.”

But what the couple does admit to having increasing concern over are the feelings of their other kids, Jason, Jimmy, and Kaylee.

They’re not alone in this fear. Many parents with kids with autism admit to stretching themselves thin, since the child with autism can need so much – and those demands will be felt across the entire family unit. Still, the needs of the typical siblings can’t be dismissed either.

If you’re a parent of a special needs child, and want to make sure your other kids are equally as well-adjusted and happy, here are some ways that might help:

Talk to them.

By educating the other siblings early and simply on what your autistic child is facing, your children are likely to become more understanding of the dynamic in the household.  This also opens up the conversation and will show them they’re allowed to speak up too, especially if they have questions, if they’re confused, or if they simply have something to say. If there are issues or problems that arise, make sure they’re part of the conversation, so they always feel engaged and never left out.

Give them time.

The gift of time is one of the most powerful things you can give. If you can afford a babysitter, or if you have a trusted friend or family member who can stay with your autistic child, take your other children out, preferably one at a time, or just dedicate a period of time with them, when it’s just you two. This is special time that won’t be interrupted by the needs of anyone else – it’s special time that’s just theirs and yours.

Teach them.

Buy them books on autism. Check out YouTube videos. Bring them to meetings. By teaching them about autism, it will help them enhance what they know and what they see.

Create shared interests.

Does your autistic child love dinosaurs? Can you bring the whole family to a museum?

Does your typical child like trains? Perhaps your autistic child will develop an interest in them as well.

There’s a need to balance the needs of the whole family, not just the autistic child. Sometimes, it’s not about talking about the disorder, but the regular goings on and happenings of daily life outside of the challenges of autism. By creating shared interests and experiences, it helps to develop a positive and healthy family life – where everyone feels heard, accepted and loved.

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