How do Siblings of Children with Autism Feel?

The Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a broad range of psychological impairments that cause symptoms such as communication problems, repetitive behavior, and decreased social functioning. Parents of children with any psychological problem experience elevated levels of stress and heightened tension within the family unit. “Because of the unique characteristics of ASD, one might assume that there is a difference between the effects of ASD and other disabilities on the sibling relationship and on the social, behavioral, and psychological adjustment of these siblings,” said Tinneke Moyson, Ph.D, and member of the Academic Staff at Ghent University in Belgium. “However, findings regarding the adjustment of siblings of children with ASD, when compared with the adjustment of siblings of children with another type of disability, have been mixed and inconsistent.” Moyson and her colleague, Herbert Roeyers, Professor of Psychology and Education Sciences at Ghent, wanted to get a better idea of exactly how these children felt being a sibling of an ASD child. “Understanding siblings’ experiences and perceived needs is necessary for the development of effective sibling support programs,” said Moyson.

The team interviewed 17 preteens and asked them to describe their quality of life, themselves and what it meant to be a brother or sister. They found that the children saw both positive and negative effects of having a sibling with ASD. “When siblings realize that their brother or sister is different and always will be different, they not only adjust to it, but after a while experience their situation as normal and take advantage of it,” said Moyson. But she added that some characteristics of ASD make it difficult for siblings. “Because of the invisibility of the disability, siblings are not always recognized as having a ‘special’ brother or sister.” She added, “Because they have no other choice than to adjust to their specific situation, siblings not only learn to consider their situation as normal but also to refuse themselves permission to complain.” Moyson believes her findings have significant implications. “Social workers, psychologists, teachers, clinicians, and all other professionals working with families of children with ASD need to recognize the sibling’s unique experience and at least make this position visible.”

Moyson, Tinneke, and Herbert Roeyers. “The Quality of Life of Siblings of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Exceptional Children 78.1 (2011): 41-55. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Gerald Crawford

    Gerald Crawford

    October 28th, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    It definitely can be tough on siblings to have an autistic spectrum brother or sister. And not least of all because much of the attention and focus normally shared more or less equally between siblings in a family is directed by the parents toward the ASD child who simply needs more care. Siblings can feel isolated and left out in that respect.

  • jenna


    October 28th, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    well there r a lotta things that decide how a sibling’s problem could impact a child.the way d parents handle d disorder d community support and even d neighborhood can play a role.the sibling could grow up to be supportive of d autistic child or could well take advantage as you ve mentioned.

  • sunni


    October 29th, 2011 at 6:25 AM

    Like anything else I would presume that the findings would differ from amily to family.

    Every family dynamic is bound to be different; therefore how they handle any given situation is bound to be different as well.

    And the siblings who have someone in the home who is autistic are typically going to follow the lead of the adults in the home.

  • Ashley Wright

    Ashley Wright

    October 29th, 2011 at 3:57 PM

    My younger stepbrother is thirteen and a high-functioning autistic. I spend a lot of time explaining what that means and sticking up for him. People that haven’t lived in the same home have no concept of what it’s like. They don’t have to waken up to screaming fits or be caught in embarrassing situations because he was too honest with his opinions. Diplomacy is sure not a strong point of his…

    On the other hand, he can be very loving, funny and sweet like a much younger child. The good outweighs the bad. :)



    October 29th, 2011 at 10:57 PM

    Family is a closely knit unit and anything happening to one person does affect all the others. And if you are not affected or feel anything about your sibling’s problems then i don’t know what in the world is happening in your family. it may be a negative thing but if it is not happening its not something to cheer about either!

  • GwenWilkins


    October 30th, 2011 at 12:03 AM

    Oh my, Ashley! Do I hear you, girl. I’m in the same boat with my little brother. My friends don’t get it and think he’s just a quirky kid. They don’t see his sensory issues like I do either.

    I’ll never forget the time he sneaked scissors into his room during the night and proceeded to cut and rip up his new sheets during the night because “they felt funny” and he couldn’t stand them against his skin any longer.

    He could have just stripped the bed of bedding. That’s what anyone reading this is thinking that doesn’t have an autistic kid at home. You and I know better. He didn’t do that because mom might put them back on it he said. See the difference in how they think? Autistic kids are very smart.

    Mom promised him she’d never do that if she got him sheets couldn’t sleep on. She made him promise to not cut anything up again and tell her instead. My dad was livid about it all of course. Mom and I, we understood. We read more about autism than he does. Your brother’s lucky to have you in his corner, Ashley. :)

  • Addison


    October 30th, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    I hope that all parents with an autistic child recognize that it is not healthy for the family to ignore one child in order to care for another.

    Sadly I think that this happens far too often in homes where one child requires an extreme amount of attention. The the other children are left to fend for themselves.

    This is not ideal in any family to favor one over another. You have to be a family that can balance that care and spread the love to all.

  • laurie higgins

    laurie higgins

    October 31st, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    My guess would be that these are kids who feel sad that they are not getting enough attention when they are a child. A parent is more likely going to focus more on the child with special needs over the child who can better take care of herself.

  • Louise


    September 1st, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    My son was diagnosed just over a yr ago with ASD. His older sister has had issues with the ammount of time i spend with her due to me caring for him as im a single mother. But i have tried seeking help for her from GPs, school etc. At a loss now

  • Raymi


    February 20th, 2013 at 7:48 PM

    My younger brother is also autistic. I care for him so fiercely and would do anything for him. I understand him like no one else can. He is very intelligent and can sometimes come up with unique and genius ways to do things.

    Although his autism is extremely mild compared to others, I still find him frustrating at times. Sometimes I would catch myself thinking what it would be like if he was not autistic? I feel extremely guilty about it and shove the idea away right after because I don’t think I could live without my brother being the way he is now.

    At the same time, I worry so much for him. Like what is going to happen when he grows older. I am always so frightened about the millions of horrifying situations he can be placed in because he doesn’t no better.

    I think we siblings with autistic brothers or sisters are forced to grow up with reality. We have to know that the world is not perfect for anyone, and we become a parent in a way looking after our siblings. Everytime I see an autistic children, I automatically can find a connection with them and it warms my heart.

  • me


    March 18th, 2015 at 4:37 PM

    just saying, how do you think we feel?
    at least that’s how i feel 24/7, 7/52, 52/365.
    if you’ve ever read the book Wonder, Via kind of explains it using the solar system. Auggie is the earth. everything revolves around Auggie.
    If my family were the solar system we’d have to have 2 suns, because i have not one but two brothers with autism. so they get all the attention. of course.
    “no you can’t go to the school dance.”
    “no, brother one has an appointment so you can’t go to her house”
    “no, we can’t buy you that because we still have to pay for stuff for brother 2”
    “yes, you may have all your responsibility on your own shoulders even though you’re only 12.”

    see? invivible.

  • Suban


    October 21st, 2016 at 6:43 AM

    Can understand that completely, you always get the worst, bcoz your parents have already spent so much on your sibling. Our needs are least cared about

  • me


    March 18th, 2015 at 4:38 PM

    @laurie higgins
    that’s exactly it :)

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