How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry and Autism: Tips and Strategies

With the right approach, parents can help their children develop healthy relationships and minimize sibling rivalry. In this article, we'll discuss some tips and strategies for dealing with sibling rivalry and autism.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
January 12, 2024

How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry and Autism: Tips and Strategies

Understanding Sibling Rivalry in an Autism Household

In an autism household, dealing with sibling rivalry can present unique challenges for parents. It is important to understand the nature of sibling rivalry and how it is influenced by the presence of autism in the family.

Introduction to Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a common dynamic in many families, including those with a member on the autism spectrum. It refers to the competition, jealousy, and conflicts that arise between siblings. Siblings may vie for their parents' attention, resources, or recognition, leading to feelings of resentment and animosity.

For parents of children with autism, sibling rivalry can be further complicated by the additional needs and demands of the child on the spectrum. Siblings may perceive that their brother or sister with autism receives more attention, accommodations, or support, which can trigger feelings of frustration and resentment.

Unique Challenges in an Autism Household

In an autism household, sibling rivalry may manifest differently compared to families without a member on the spectrum. The presence of autism can introduce additional factors that contribute to the challenges siblings face.

One unique challenge is the responsibility and role reversal that siblings may experience. They may take on caregiving roles, such as assisting with daily routines, providing emotional support, or advocating for their sibling with autism. While this can foster a sense of maturity and empathy, it can also lead to feelings of burden or pressure.

Emotional and behavioral factors also come into play. Siblings of individuals with autism may witness their sibling experiencing meltdowns, communication difficulties, or sensory sensitivities, which can be distressing and confusing. They may struggle to understand and navigate these behaviors, leading to heightened emotions and tension within the sibling relationship.

It is essential for parents to recognize and address these unique challenges in order to promote a healthy and harmonious sibling dynamic. By understanding the dynamics of sibling rivalry in an autism household, parents can implement strategies to help their children navigate these challenges and foster positive relationships within the family.

two kids sitting on brown stone

Impact of Autism on Sibling Dynamics

Living in an autism household can have a significant impact on the dynamics between siblings. Sibling relationships play a crucial role in a child's development, and when autism is involved, certain factors come into play that can influence these relationships.

This section explores the impact of autism on sibling dynamics, focusing on sibling roles and responsibilities, as well as emotional and behavioral factors.

Sibling Roles and Responsibilities

In an autism household, siblings often assume unique roles and responsibilities due to the specific needs of their sibling with autism. These roles can vary depending on factors such as age, gender, and individual personalities.

Some siblings may take on a caregiving role, assisting with daily tasks and providing emotional support. Others may adopt a protective role, advocating for their sibling with autism and ensuring their well-being.

Understanding and acknowledging these roles is essential for parents and caregivers. It is important to strike a balance between recognizing the contributions of siblings while ensuring that they do not feel overwhelmed or burdened by their responsibilities.

Open communication and regular check-ins with siblings can help identify any issues or concerns they may have.

Emotional and Behavioral Factors

Emotional and behavioral factors can have a significant impact on sibling relationships in an autism household. Siblings may experience a range of emotions, including frustration, resentment, and jealousy. It is essential to remember that these emotions are normal and natural responses to the unique challenges they may face.

Siblings may feel frustrated by the attention their sibling with autism receives or the disruption caused by their sibling's behaviors.

They may also experience resentment due to the perceived differences in treatment or the need to adapt their own lives to accommodate their sibling's needs. Jealousy can arise when they observe their sibling with autism receiving additional support or accommodations.

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in helping siblings navigate these emotions. Providing a safe space for siblings to express their feelings without judgment is essential. Encouraging open communication and active listening can foster understanding and empathy.

Additionally, involving siblings in discussions about autism and its impact can help them develop a better understanding of their sibling's unique challenges and needs.

Understanding the impact of autism on sibling dynamics, including the roles and responsibilities siblings assume and the emotional and behavioral factors they may experience, is vital in creating a supportive and harmonious environment within the family.

By acknowledging and addressing these factors, parents can help foster positive sibling relationships and build a strong foundation of support and understanding for all family members involved.

Strategies for Coping with Sibling Rivalry

Dealing with sibling rivalry in an autism household can be challenging, but there are strategies that parents can implement to help manage and reduce conflict.

By focusing on open communication, establishing clear boundaries and expectations, and promoting empathy and understanding, parents can create a more harmonious environment for their children.

Open Communication and Education

Open communication is key in addressing and managing sibling rivalry. It's important for parents to create a safe and supportive space where siblings can express their feelings, concerns, and frustrations. Encourage open dialogue, active listening, and validation of emotions. This allows siblings to better understand each other's experiences and perspectives.

In addition to open communication, educating siblings about autism can foster empathy and understanding. Teach them about the unique challenges their sibling with autism may face, such as difficulties with social interactions or sensory sensitivities.

This knowledge can help reduce misunderstandings and promote a more compassionate relationship between siblings.

Establishing Clear Boundaries and Expectations

Establishing clear boundaries and expectations is crucial in managing sibling rivalry. Clearly define what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This helps siblings understand their roles and responsibilities within the family and promotes a sense of fairness.

Create consistent rules and consequences for all siblings, including the child with autism. Consistency provides a sense of structure and stability, which can contribute to a more peaceful household environment. Use visual aids, such as charts or schedules, to reinforce the rules and expectations for all family members.

Promoting Empathy and Understanding

Promoting empathy and understanding between siblings is essential for fostering positive relationships. Encourage siblings to put themselves in each other's shoes and consider how their actions may impact their brother or sister with autism. Teach them to recognize and appreciate each other's strengths and differences.

Engage in activities that promote empathy, such as engaging in joint hobbies or participating in sibling support groups. These activities provide opportunities for siblings to bond, share experiences, and develop a deeper understanding of each other.

By implementing these strategies, parents can help their children cope with sibling rivalry in an autism household.

Remember that each family is unique, and it may take time to find what works best for your own situation. Patience, understanding, and consistent effort can go a long way in nurturing positive sibling relationships.

Nurturing Sibling Relationships

When it comes to coping with sibling rivalry in an autism household, nurturing positive sibling relationships is crucial.

By implementing strategies that encourage positive interactions, cultivate individual time and attention, and foster mutual support and cooperation, parents can help alleviate the tensions and promote harmony among siblings.

Encouraging Positive Interactions

Creating an environment that fosters positive interactions between siblings is essential for reducing rivalry and promoting understanding. Encourage siblings to engage in shared activities that they both enjoy, such as playing games or participating in hobbies.

This shared experience can help build a sense of camaraderie and strengthen their bond. It is also important to model and reinforce positive communication and problem-solving skills to teach siblings how to effectively resolve conflicts.

Cultivating Individual Time and Attention

In an autism household, it is crucial to recognize the unique needs of each child, including siblings without autism. By carving out individual time and attention for each child, parents can provide a space for siblings to express their feelings and receive the attention they need.

This dedicated one-on-one time can help foster a sense of importance and reduce feelings of neglect or jealousy. Consider engaging in activities that cater to each child's interests and strengths, allowing them to feel seen and valued.

Fostering Mutual Support and Cooperation

Promoting mutual support and cooperation between siblings is key to reducing rivalry and building a supportive family dynamic. Encourage siblings to empathize with and understand one another's experiences.

Teach them to celebrate each other's achievements and offer support during challenging times. By fostering an environment of cooperation and teamwork, siblings can learn to appreciate and rely on each other's strengths, creating a foundation of support that can endure throughout their lives.

To further illustrate the importance of nurturing sibling relationships, consider the following statistics:


  • 80% of siblings of individuals with autism report feeling more compassionate and patient due to their sibling's condition.
  • 70% of siblings of individuals with autism say that their sibling has positively impacted their lives.
  • 65% of siblings of individuals with autism report feeling a sense of responsibility to protect and care for their sibling.

By implementing strategies that encourage positive interactions, cultivate individual time and attention, and foster mutual support and cooperation, parents can create an environment that promotes sibling harmony and minimizes rivalry in an autism household.

Remember that each family is unique, and it may take time and patience to find the strategies that work best for your children. Seeking professional support and utilizing available resources can also provide valuable guidance in nurturing healthy sibling relationships.

Seeking Professional Support

When coping with sibling rivalry in an autism household, seeking professional support can be immensely beneficial for both the children with autism and their siblings. Professional support can provide guidance, strategies, and a safe space to address the unique challenges that arise in these situations. Here are some options for seeking professional support:

Therapy and Counseling Options

Therapy and counseling can play a crucial role in helping families navigate sibling rivalry in an autism household. There are different therapeutic approaches that can be beneficial, such as:

  • Family Therapy: Family therapy involves the entire family unit and focuses on improving communication, understanding, and dynamics among family members. It can help siblings develop empathy, learn effective communication strategies, and build stronger relationships.
  • Play Therapy: Play therapy utilizes play and creative activities to help children express their emotions and develop coping skills. It can be particularly helpful for siblings of children with autism, providing them a safe space to explore their feelings and concerns.
  • Individual Counseling: Individual counseling provides an opportunity for siblings to process their emotions, discuss their experiences, and develop strategies to cope with sibling rivalry. It allows them to receive personalized support and guidance from a trained professional.

Support Groups and Resources

Joining support groups and accessing relevant resources can be invaluable for parents and siblings dealing with sibling rivalry in an autism household. These platforms offer a sense of community, a space to share experiences, and access to valuable information and support. Some options to consider include:

  • Autism Support Groups: There are numerous support groups specifically tailored to families of individuals with autism. These groups provide a supportive environment where parents and siblings can connect with others facing similar challenges, share advice, and gain a sense of belonging.
  • Online Forums and Communities: Online forums and communities dedicated to autism and sibling support can be a valuable resource. They offer a platform for parents and siblings to ask questions, seek advice, and share their experiences with a wider community.
  • Books and Publications: There are various books and publications available that provide insights, guidance, and strategies for managing sibling rivalry in an autism household. These resources can offer practical tips, helpful perspectives, and reassurance to families navigating these complex dynamics.

Involving the Whole Family

When seeking professional support, it's important to involve the entire family in the process. Sibling rivalry in an autism household impacts everyone, and involving all family members can foster a sense of unity and shared responsibility. This involvement can include:

  • Family Meetings: Regular family meetings provide an opportunity for open communication, problem-solving, and setting goals as a family. They allow siblings to express their feelings, voice their concerns, and contribute to finding solutions together.
  • Shared Activities: Engaging in shared activities as a family can promote bonding and understanding among siblings. It's important to create opportunities for positive interactions, such as family outings, game nights, or hobbies that everyone can enjoy together.
  • Education and Awareness: Encouraging family members to educate themselves about autism spectrum disorder can enhance understanding and empathy. This shared knowledge can help siblings develop a deeper appreciation for their sibling's strengths and challenges, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment.

By seeking professional support, whether through therapy, support groups, or involving the entire family, parents can navigate sibling rivalry in an autism household more effectively. These resources and strategies can provide guidance, promote healthy relationships, and help siblings develop the necessary tools to cope with the challenges they may encounter.


Is it common for siblings of children with autism to feel resentful or jealous?

Yes, it's not uncommon for siblings of children with autism to feel neglected or left out. Children without autism may feel like their parents are spending all their time and energy on the child with special needs.

What can parents do to help their children cope with these feelings?

Parents can help their children cope by acknowledging their feelings, validating them, and finding ways to meet their individual needs. It's essential to give each child individual attention, set clear boundaries, and encourage positive interactions between siblings.

Should parents treat their children differently based on whether or not they have autism?

While it's important to understand the unique needs of each child, parents should strive to treat all their children equally. This means setting the same expectations for behavior, establishing consistent consequences for inappropriate behavior, and giving each child individual attention.

When should parents seek professional help for sibling rivalry and autism?

If sibling rivalry is causing significant problems in the family or if parents are struggling to balance the needs of their children, seeking professional help may be necessary. A therapist or counselor can provide guidance and support for developing strategies that promote healthy relationships between siblings.


In conclusion, dealing with sibling rivalry and autism can be challenging, but it's not impossible. By understanding your children's needs, encouraging positive interactions, setting clear boundaries, giving each child individual attention, and seeking professional help when necessary, parents can help their children develop healthy relationships and reduce sibling rivalry.

Remember, every family is unique, and what works for one family may not work for another. However, with patience, love, and understanding, parents can create a peaceful and loving home environment for their children.