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Siblings and Autism - Brothers in every sense of the word?


This is a topic that I have discussed within school and have begun to think a lot about, particularly with my involvement with the International pre-Autistic Network (ipAn) that is closely associated with the Parent Infant Clinic that provides early intervention for infants showing signs of autism. The clinic provides an intense programme involving the child and the whole family with the aim of changing the environment around the child before the child’s behaviour makes changes around the family. They believe that once a child is older and the parents have parenting routines instilled it is so much harder to make the changes required to effectively parent an autistic child.

It is with this thought in mind that I have recently noted and observed the siblings of two diagnosed ASD children. Both are one of only two boys, with the same age gap between brothers and the elder boy having a diagnosis of ASD. Interestingly, neither of the siblings have a diagnosis of ASD, but both display autistic like behaviour and are often treated as if they had a diagnosis. Observing them closely, both when teaching them and as an OT it appears to me that some or all of the behaviour they are displaying could be learned behaviour from their older brother.

It is a well-known phenomenon that younger siblings learn from older siblings, often reaching milestones at a sooner age than older siblings did before them. So surely if an older sibling is autistic, wouldn’t it make sense that a younger sibling would learn this type of behaviour? In addition, would it be possible that this autistic like behaviour might be reinforced through similar parenting methods?

I am not in the slightest suggesting that parenting makes an autistic child, but could altering parenting techniques at an early point alleviate autistic like behaviours? And therefore could altering the parenting of a ‘non- autistic’ sibling reduce the likelihood of learned behaviour from an older autistic child?

I can only speak from my own experience of motherhood, that it seems to me that your first child teaches you how to parent, and you adapt your methods to suit your individual child. Once these methods are ingrained I can only imagine (having only one child) that it is very difficult to change your path to suit a second and very different child.

I would love to hear from parents or fellow professions reading this post. Have you observed similar sibling pairs? Are you a mother or father of more than one child with a diagnosis of autism? Have you seen a similar pattern develop in your own family?


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