How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry and Autism?

If you have a child with autism, you know how challenging it can be to navigate their unique needs and behaviors. But what about their siblings?

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
December 13, 2023
min read

Understanding Sibling Rivalry in the Context of Autism

When it comes to raising a child with autism, sibling relationships can be complex and may present unique challenges. Understanding the impact of autism on sibling relationships and the factors that contribute to sibling rivalry is crucial in fostering a supportive and harmonious family environment.

The Impact of Autism on Sibling Relationships

Having a sibling with autism can have both positive and negative effects on the relationship between siblings. On one hand, it can cultivate empathy, compassion, and understanding as siblings learn to navigate the challenges and unique needs of their brother or sister with autism. On the other hand, it can also lead to feelings of frustration, jealousy, and resentment.

Siblings of individuals with autism may experience a range of emotions. They may feel neglected or overshadowed by the attention and support given to their sibling with autism. They may also struggle with understanding their sibling's behaviors and communication differences. These challenges can contribute to sibling rivalry and strain the sibling relationship.

To help siblings understand autism and navigate these complex emotions, it is important to provide them with age-appropriate information about autism. This can help them develop empathy and a deeper understanding of their sibling's experiences.

Factors Contributing to Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry can arise from various factors, and when combined with the impact of autism, it can become even more pronounced. Some common factors that contribute to sibling rivalry in the context of autism include:

  1. Attention Imbalance: Siblings may feel that their needs and achievements are not given equal attention compared to their sibling with autism. This imbalance can lead to feelings of jealousy and competition.
  2. Communication Challenges: Siblings may struggle to communicate effectively with their brother or sister with autism. This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts, further exacerbating sibling rivalry.
  3. Differences in Abilities: Siblings may notice the differences in abilities between themselves and their sibling with autism. This can create a sense of unfairness and contribute to feelings of resentment and rivalry.
  4. Parental Stress: The additional demands of caring for a child with autism can place significant stress on parents. This stress can indirectly affect sibling dynamics and contribute to feelings of rivalry.

Addressing these factors and promoting a supportive environment can help mitigate sibling rivalry and foster positive sibling relationships.

By understanding the impact of autism on sibling relationships and the factors that contribute to sibling rivalry, parents can take proactive steps to nurture positive sibling dynamics. Encouraging communication, empathy, and acceptance can help siblings build strong bonds and navigate the unique challenges and joys of having a sibling with autism.

Nurturing Positive Sibling Relationships

When it comes to navigating sibling relationships in the context of autism, nurturing a positive and supportive environment is essential. Siblings play a crucial role in each other's lives, and fostering understanding, empathy, communication, and collaboration can help strengthen their bond. Here are some strategies to promote positive sibling relationships:

Encouraging Understanding and Empathy

Helping siblings understand autism is an important first step in fostering empathy and reducing conflicts. Encourage open conversations about autism, explaining its characteristics and how it may impact their sibling's behavior and communication. Utilize age-appropriate resources, such as books or videos, to help siblings gain a better understanding of autism.

It's also crucial to emphasize that each person is unique, and differences should be embraced. Encourage siblings to appreciate their autistic sibling's strengths and challenges, fostering acceptance and appreciation for who they are.

Promoting Communication and Collaboration

Effective communication is key to building strong sibling relationships. Encourage siblings to express their thoughts and feelings openly, providing a safe and supportive space for them to share their experiences and concerns. Regular family discussions can help siblings voice their needs and create an atmosphere of open dialogue.

Promote collaboration by encouraging siblings to engage in shared activities and projects. This can provide opportunities for bonding and cooperation. For example, engaging in sensory-friendly activities or participating in hobbies that both siblings enjoy can help foster a sense of togetherness.

Consider implementing structured communication techniques, such as visual schedules or social stories, to facilitate effective communication between siblings. These tools can help enhance understanding and reduce misunderstandings.

By nurturing understanding, empathy, and effective communication, parents can foster positive sibling relationships and create a supportive environment for the entire family. It's important to remember that every family dynamic is unique, and finding strategies that work for your specific situation is crucial.

Strategies for Managing Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry can be particularly challenging when one of the siblings has autism. However, with effective strategies in place, parents can help manage and reduce the conflicts that arise. Here are two key strategies for managing sibling rivalry in the context of autism:

Establishing Clear Expectations and Boundaries

Establishing clear expectations and boundaries is crucial for managing sibling rivalry. By setting clear guidelines and rules, you can create a structured environment that minimizes potential conflicts. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Consistent communication: Clearly communicate the expectations and rules to both siblings. Use simple and concrete language when explaining the boundaries and reinforce them consistently.
  2. Visual aids: Utilize visual aids, such as charts or schedules, to reinforce the expectations and boundaries. Visual cues can be especially helpful for individuals with autism who may respond well to visual information.
  3. Involvement in rule-setting: Involve both siblings in the process of establishing rules and boundaries. This promotes a sense of ownership and cooperation, leading to better adherence. Encourage them to express their opinions and collaborate on finding solutions.
  4. Conflict resolution: Teach your children effective conflict resolution strategies, such as taking turns, compromising, and using calm communication. Help them understand that conflicts are normal and can be resolved through peaceful means.

Providing Individual Attention and Support

Providing individual attention and support to each sibling is essential for reducing sibling rivalry and fostering a positive environment. Here's how you can accomplish this:

  1. One-on-one time: Set aside dedicated one-on-one time with each child. This allows you to give individual attention and focus on their unique needs and interests. During this time, engage in activities that they enjoy and create opportunities for open and supportive conversations.
  2. Recognize accomplishments: Acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of each child. This helps them develop a sense of self-worth and reduces feelings of competition. Emphasize that everyone's accomplishments are valuable and deserving of recognition.
  3. Support for the sibling with autism: Provide the necessary support and resources for the sibling with autism. This may include therapies, interventions, or specialized education. Ensuring that their specific needs are met can help reduce frustration and jealousy within the sibling relationship.
  4. Encourage empathy and understanding: Foster empathy and understanding between the siblings by promoting opportunities for learning about autism. Encourage the neurotypical sibling to ask questions, read books, or attend support groups to gain a deeper understanding of their sibling's condition.

By implementing these strategies, parents can help manage sibling rivalry and create a more harmonious environment for their children. It's important to remember that each family is unique, and different approaches may work better for different individuals.

Building a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is crucial in fostering positive sibling relationships when one or more siblings have autism. By focusing on shared activities and seeking professional help and support, parents can help siblings understand and support each other better.

Creating Opportunities for Shared Activities

Engaging siblings with autism and their neurotypical siblings in shared activities can help strengthen their bond and promote understanding. It's important to choose activities that are enjoyable and suitable for all individuals involved.

Shared Activities

  • Arts and crafts
  • Outdoor games and sports
  • Cooking or baking together
  • Family movie nights
  • Music or dance sessions

These shared activities provide an opportunity for siblings to connect, have fun, and create positive memories together. It's essential to tailor the activities based on the interests and abilities of each sibling. By involving everyone, it helps foster a sense of togetherness and reduces feelings of exclusion or rivalry.

Seeking Professional Help and Support

Sometimes, managing sibling rivalry and creating a supportive environment requires additional guidance and support from professionals. Seeking help from therapists, counselors, or support groups can provide valuable insights and strategies for addressing the unique challenges that arise within the sibling dynamic.

Professional Support

  • Family therapy sessions
  • Sibling support groups
  • Individual counseling for siblings
  • Workshops or educational programs

Professional help can assist in improving communication, promoting empathy, and developing effective coping mechanisms for both the sibling with autism and their neurotypical sibling. They can also help address any emotional or behavioral issues that may arise due to sibling rivalry.

By creating opportunities for shared activities and seeking professional support, parents can lay the foundation for a supportive environment that fosters understanding, empathy, and strong sibling bonds. It's important to remember that each family's journey is unique, and finding the right strategies may take time and experimentation. With patience, open communication, and a commitment to supporting each sibling's individual needs, parents can navigate the challenges of sibling rivalry in the context of autism and cultivate a nurturing environment for all.

Fostering Long-Term Sibling Bonds

When it comes to sibling relationships in the context of autism, fostering long-term bonds is essential for creating a supportive and understanding family dynamic. By encouraging advocacy and supportive roles, as well as promoting acceptance and appreciation, parents can help siblings develop strong connections that will endure throughout their lives.

Encouraging Advocacy and Supportive Roles

One way to foster long-term sibling bonds is by encouraging siblings to become advocates for their brother or sister with autism. By involving them in discussions about their sibling's needs, challenges, and strengths, parents can empower siblings to be supportive allies.

Siblings can play a crucial role in advocating for their sibling with autism in various settings, such as school or social activities. By educating them about autism and its unique characteristics, parents can help siblings understand the challenges their sibling may face and provide support when needed. This involvement can strengthen sibling relationships and create a sense of teamwork and shared responsibility.

Promoting Acceptance and Appreciation

Promoting acceptance and appreciation among siblings is essential for building long-term bonds. Parents can encourage siblings to embrace and celebrate their sibling's differences, fostering an environment of understanding and compassion. This can be achieved by actively acknowledging and appreciating the unique qualities and strengths that each sibling brings to the family.

It's important for parents to create opportunities for siblings to engage in shared activities that cater to both their interests and those of their sibling with autism. This can help foster a sense of camaraderie and create positive memories that strengthen the sibling bond. By involving siblings in activities that promote inclusivity and respect, parents can reinforce the message of acceptance and create a foundation for lifelong support.

To further support siblings in understanding and accepting their sibling with autism, resources such as books, articles, and support groups can be beneficial. These resources can provide siblings with additional insights and tools to navigate their unique sibling relationship.

By encouraging advocacy and supportive roles, as well as promoting acceptance and appreciation, parents can foster long-term sibling bonds that will endure through the ups and downs of life. It's important to remember that each sibling relationship is unique, and it may take time, patience, and open communication to build and nurture these connections. Seeking professional help and support, such as therapy or support groups specifically designed for siblings, can also provide valuable guidance and assistance.


Is it common for siblings of children with autism to feel neglected?

Yes, it's not uncommon for siblings of children with autism to feel neglected. Parents may spend a lot of time and resources on their child with autism, which can leave their other children feeling left out or ignored. It's important to create special time for each child and make sure they feel valued and loved.

How can I help my neurotypical child understand their sibling's behavior?

It can be challenging for neurotypical children to understand their sibling's behavior. Try using social stories or visual aids to explain why their sibling may act differently. Encourage your neurotypical child to ask questions and be patient with their sibling.

What should I do if my children are fighting constantly?

If your children are fighting constantly, it may be helpful to seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in working with families affected by autism. They can work with your family to develop strategies for dealing with sibling rivalry in a healthy way.

How can I prevent feelings of jealousy between my children?

One way to prevent feelings of jealousy is by creating special time for each child individually and as a family. Consistently treating all of your children fairly and setting the same rules and expectations for everyone can also help reduce feelings of jealousy between siblings.

Can sibling rivalry have negative effects on my child with autism?

Yes, constant fighting or tension between siblings can cause stress for a child with autism. It's important to address any issues as soon as possible in order to create a positive home environment for everyone. Seeking professional help may also be beneficial in managing any negative effects on your child with autism.


Remember, sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up, but it can be more complicated when one sibling has autism. By educating your children, encouraging communication, being fair and consistent, creating special time for each child, and seeking professional help when needed, you can help your family navigate this challenge with love and compassion.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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