News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Sibling Spotlight: Not another therapy appointment!

JCCHD | Fri, March 15, 2013 | [Autism Treatment][Sibling Spotlight]

Two girls arguing

If you have a child with autism, there is little chance of avoiding a tight weekly schedule of various therapy appointments. This is hectic for parents, of course, and it is also challenging for siblings, who often have to tag along. Some siblings won’t mind, but most will view it as boring or unfair, and some might experience even more difficult feelings and emotions.

It is common for children to feel envious of their brother’s or sister’s therapy appointments.  Therapy can look fun. Their sibling appears to be getting lots of attention from a nice therapist and gets to play with cool toys, while they are stuck in a boring waiting room. This can be particularly upsetting after a long day at school, when they are ready to get home and relax. It is helpful to keep siblings in the loop regarding what the therapy is focusing on—what it’s meant to accomplish—so they can better understand that they are not simply being unfairly excluded from what looks like a cool playdate.  Keeping open communication about these situations can help siblings feel better about some of the negative emotions they experience.

And there are things parents can do to make the experience less of a drag. To make waiting less boring, parents can get creative with the sibling and make a “fun pack” of activities that can be brought to appointments. Involving your child in creating the pack makes it more enjoyable and fun for them. Fill a bag or backpack with games, art supplies, video games, or DVD players. The materials can be rotated, or a “weekly theme” can be used to keep it interesting. 

Oftentimes therapy appointments occur after school, and siblings might have homework they need to get done; this can be a great opportunity to get it over with. However, offices can be distracting. Some helpful tips for making it easier to work: have headphones on hand to block out annoying noise, or find an outside bench or area close by that is less distracting; consider bringing along a lap desk that your child can work on.

If possible, set aside time each week for an activity with your unaffected child (or children). This will give him or her something to look forward to, and help compensate for all of the time devoted to your child with ASD. If you can, check out a new park or trail, go to a sports or musical event, or even just take a bike ride together every Saturday morning.

Taking some of these simple steps to recognize the special needs of all children can go a long way in decreasing feelings of anxiety, jealousy, and anger, and can reframe a negative experience into a more positive one for everyone involved.