Accepting we are all different
Neurodiversity is a term that refers to the natural variation of human brains and neurological traits. Just as all people on this planet vary on the outside in terms of external attributes like hair, skin, eyes, height, etc. so too do we vary on the inside – including how our brain is structured and functions. This means that every person’s brain works differently, and this is essential for us as a species. It’s important to recognize and appreciate this diversity, especially within families.
Being a neurodivergent affirming family means creating a safe and supportive environment that accepts and embraces this diversity. Here are some ways to become a neurodivergent affirming family.
The first step towards becoming a neurodivergent-affirming family is educating yourself about the different types of neurodivergent conditions. Learning about the unique strengths, challenges, and perspectives that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table can help you understand and appreciate their differences.
Another important aspect of being a neurodivergent-affirming family is promoting self-acceptance and self-advocacy. Encourage your family members to accept and appreciate their differences and to advocate for themselves by expressing their needs, preferences, and boundaries. Avoid using negative language or stigmatizing neurodivergent conditions.
Tough stuff at home
Many siblings feel that things at home are all focused on their brother or sister. Some siblings have to do a lot of things to help with caring, others miss out on activities that their friends are able to do. Read our tips for dealing with some of the difficult things that happen at home.
Siblings often don’t get enough time with their parents. Getting time with a parent is really important. Some special time each day with a parent makes children and young people feel loved and cared for.
Some things you can do if you would like to spend more time with your parent
- Ask your parent to spend a little bit of time with you each day. This may be when your brother or sister has gone to bed.
- If your brother or sister has short breaks away, ask your parent if you can do something special together at this time like going shopping, going to a café or going swimming.
- Tell your parent that you would like him or her to watch you in a school assembly or at sports day or some other special event.
Siblings often miss out on things because of what’s going on in their family. Sometimes days out have to be cancelled, or siblings can’t have friends round. It can feel sad or frustrating if you can’t do the same things as other people you know.
Some things you can do if you miss out on things
- Talk to your parent about the things that you want to do and ask them to help you do these.
- Tell your parent or a teacher or pastoral care person about how you feel about missing out on things.
- Make a list of the things you enjoy doing and see if you can do one of these each week.
Siblings tell us that they don’t like being hurt by their brother or sister. It is upsetting and sometimes frightening when this happens. It is important to get help. It is not OK to get hurt.
Some things you can do if you are being hurt by your brother or sister
- Tell your parent or teacher about being hurt by your brother or sister.
- Ask your parent to make a plan with you to protect you from being hurt.
- Walk away and go to a safe place in your house if your brother or sister is becoming angry and not behaving.
For more information about tough stuff at home visit: https://www.sibs.org.uk/youngsibs/info-and-advice/tough-stuff-at-home/
Some disabled children have difficulties with their behaviour or their moods. This can be very hard for siblings to deal with if their stuff gets broken or they get hurt. Read about things that help if your brother or sister has difficult behaviour.
Siblings tell us that it can be hard when their disabled brother or sister is moody. It can be hard to know how they are going to react to something and this can be very stressful for everyone in the family.
Some things you can do if your brother or sister is moody
- Remember that it is not your fault that your brother or sister gets moody – it is usually part of their disability.
- Do something that you enjoy so that you can stay in a good mood – listening to music, playing a game, talking to a friend.
- Tell your parent about how you feel when your brother or sister is moody.
For more information about difficult behaviour visit: https://www.sibs.org.uk/youngsibs/info-and-advice/difficult-behaviour/
I don’t understand my sister’s condition
It is really important for siblings to have the right information about their brother or sister’s disability or condition. Siblings tell us that they don’t always understand what the condition means.
Some things you can do if you want to know more about your brother or sister’s disability or condition
- Ask your parent to explain your brother or sister’s disability or condition to you.
- Keep asking questions if you don’t understand the answers – even adults find it hard to understand disability.
- Write a list of things you want to know about and give it to your parent to discuss with you.
Tips for brothers and sisters
- Be proud of your brother or sister. There’s no reason not to be open when you’re talking to your friends about autism. If you are embarrassed by your brother or sister, your friends will sense this. It will make it awkward for them and could make it harder for you.
- Love your brother or sister for who they are. You would want them to do the same for you. Try to highlight what your sibling is good at; we all want to be recognised for our strengths.
- Even though you love your brother or sister, sometimes you may feel as though you do not like them. That’s okay – all brothers and sisters feel like that at times.
- If you’re finding it too much, make sure you tell someone. Don’t bottle up your feelings. If you feel you can’t talk to your parents about it, try finding someone else who will listen. There are other people you can talk to who care about you, like your teacher or other family members.
- Remember your parents may be struggling too. Try not to take it out on them. Everyone finds it difficult and everyone is trying to do their best.
- You are not alone! Almost everyone has something to face in their families. Ask your friends – they’ll all have a story to tell. And lots of families have children with autism.
- Do things together as a family but also spend some time with your family members without your brother or sister. You need to feel important too. Speak to your family if you feel left out. They’ll understand. They probably won’t realise until you mention it.
- It’s okay for you to want time alone. Having a brother or sister with autism can be tiring and frustrating. Sometimes it helps just to have a bit of space.
- Find something that you and your brother or sister enjoy doing together. You will find it rewarding to connect with them, even if it’s just a simple thing like doing a jigsaw puzzle. What’s boring to you might be really exciting to your brother or sister. So, just join in. They’ll be so happy they can share that with you.
Books for siblings:
The Superhero Heart: Explaining autism to family and friends (boy) by Christel Land
The Superhero Heart: Explaining autism to family and friends (girl) by Christel Land
The Dreadnought Centre Sibs Group
Dreadnought’s Sibs is a fun peer-based support group for the siblings of children with additional needs and disabilities.
While these types of family fights are headaches for parents, studies show that sibling rivalry can actually be beneficial, teaching children skills such as negotiating, compromising and resolving conflicts.
That doesn’t mean sibling squabbles are only beneficial. The same study notes, “If sibling rivalry continues into adulthood, there will be risks to financial competition, relationships and care, where the competition can replace competition to get parental attention that occurs early in life.”
This can be very challenging when your family is neurodiverse as your parents can’t always make things equal as children have different needs. While children expect to get their fair share, they don’t want to be treated as carbon copies of each other, either. “All children want to feel special and unique, and while they’re developing their sense of individuality, they want to be recognized by their parents as not just interchangeable siblings.