Siblings of children with autism may experience a range of emotions and challenges. The experience of each sibling will be individual and unique.  Harris and Glasberg (2012) suggest that most siblings: 1

  • Have a genuine love for their brother or sister with autism
  • Would like to learn how to interact with their brother or sister more comfortably
  • Wish their parents had more time to spend with them (although as they get older they understand why there might be an imbalance)

Siblings of a brother or sister with autism may:

  • Not understand what autism is. They may wonder “why does he do that?”
  • Be reluctant to upset their parents by expressing their fears and feelings
  • Be embarrassed by unusual things their brother/sister does
  • Feel protective of their brother/sister

Many siblings grow up and reflect on the personal benefit of growing up with a sibling with autism. They say they have:

  • Become more compassionate and accepting of other people with differences
  • Been inspired by their brother or sister
  • Chosen specific professional careers as a result of growing up with their sibling with autism

What helps?

Research23 indicates the following strategies can help improve the resilience and overall well being of siblings:

  • Set aside time for parents to spend exclusively with siblings
  • Provide open and positive information to support the sibling to understand their brother or sister’s autism
  • Listen to and value the siblings’ opinions
  • Arrange for the future care of the young person with autism.  Invite the sibling to be involved in this future planning.
  • Create opportunities for the family to do things together
  • Create opportunities for the sibling to express their feelings
  • Encourage the siblings’ friendships
  • Seek professional support if needed
  • Look after yourself and each other – when parents are calm and respectful their children feel less stressed

The Raising Children’s Website article ‘Helping siblings of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder’, identifies some ways in which a parent or carer can help a sibling understand their brother or sister’s autism:

  • Talk openly about autism from an early age
  • Answer questions with clear factual answers appropriate to their level of understanding
  • Explain the similarities as well as the differences between the siblings
  • Acknowledge the strengths of the child with autism but also point out the challenges
  • Access good books and resources.

Good resources:




  1. S. Harris, & B. Glasberg (2012).  Siblings of Children with Autism.  Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, Inc.

  2. Mailick Seltzer, M. et al (2009) Siblings of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder: Sibling relationships and wellbeing in adolescence and adulthood, Autism, 13, pp. 59-80,

  3. Hasting, R. (2003) Brief report: Behavioural adjustment of siblings of children with autism, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(1), pp. 99-104