In our family, My wife and my daughters are neurotypical while my twin sons and I are autistic. This presents some difficulties in sibling interactions. I’m sure we aren’t the only neurodiverse family, but we have had some learning experiences along our journey. Just in case anyone else is experiencing similar difficulties, I’ll share what has worked for us.
Talk About It
First up, is talking about neurodiversity. I am a big-time proponent of talking about things as a family. However, finding ways to make some topics relatable to a 3, 5, or 7-year-old kiddo can be a bit of a challenge. Did I mention we are a blended family? My daughters live with their mother out of state, but we make a trip out to visit them during their summer break from school. This last summer, we had the talk with my daughters about their half-brothers being autistic.
My eldest daughter, understood it pretty quickly, although she didn’t quite know how to handle them. It was my explanation to my youngest daughter that really made sense to them both. I asked the girls if they remembered when they got a new toy on Christmas or their birthday that they wanted to play with all the time. They both said that they loved the tablets their grandparents had gotten them. I then asked them if they had a hard time putting their tablets away when it was time for a meal or other activity. If they felt like their brain got kind of stuck on wanting to play with their tablet. They both said that they had felt like that. Next, I asked them that for their brothers, their brains can get stuck on things easily. Sometimes when the room gets really loud, or there are many people around them, it overwhelms them. Their brain gets stuck on wanting to leave the loud or crowded room, but they can’t always let us know that is what they need. My eldest daughter really latched on to this explanation. It was quite beautiful to see how the next meltdown that Eli had, she ran to grab his blanket and dinosaur and she helped him go to the other room and helped to calm him down.
Save Time By Keeping It
Now it’s one thing for neurotypical siblings to learn how to interact with autistic siblings. Helping an autistic child learn to interact with their sibling that also has autism is another animal. Very early one my wife and I decided that some toys we would buy two of. While other toys we would only buy one of. This way the environment the twins play in would naturally create opportunities where they needed to share. To help the twins with sharing we used a time. My recommendation is to use a visual timer to help the child see the time left. We initially started with 1 minute and have worked our way up to 3 minute turns over the last six months. We do still have meltdowns and fights over some toys on occasion, but overall using a visual timer helps the children know that they will get a turn when the timer is done.
Taking turns isn’t always an option though. In some cases, it’s bedtime when one of the boys decides he wants to play with the toy his brother just put away. We introduced the idea to them of making a plan for tomorrow and putting the toy in a safe place. We have a hammock swing for each of the twins, and they usually choose to put the toy in their swing. Knowing that the toy will be in their swing for them to play with in the morning really helps them to break their fixation on the toy and calm them down before a meltdown.
So if your neurodiverse children are struggling to understand each other or your autistic siblings are struggling to interact positively. Don’t be afraid to get creative and try something new. Take the same skills that you use every day, and adapt them into words or actions that they can understand. The method of making a plan for tomorrow and putting the toy in a safe place is just an age-appropriate version of the to-do list that I keep and check things off each day. In the same way, writing a task down helps me sleep better at night. Putting their toy in a spot where they know they can get it in the morning helps stave off the meltdowns at bedtime.