I have seen some families that put a lot of pressure on the normally developing child to do too much in terms of sibling interaction and the sibling ends up feeling the blame when the child with ASD not progressing enough. Do you ever feel that it is appropriate to not incorporate siblings’ interactions?
That is an outstanding question. It is not an easy one to answer. I guess the best answer is to say that every family is different. I think in those situations what you need to really do is talk to the typically developing sibling one-on-one; maybe even without the parent present. Try to get a sense of how much they want to be involved. This really ties into the idea that the sibling has the right to not participate. They have a right to not feel responsible for the child with autism's progress. Maybe allowing them to help develop goals and allowing them to do some of the data collection for goals rather than always having to be the one mediating can be a positive turn on that question. It might be possible to do some social support groups for that sibling so that they don't have that guilt complex associated with being the typically developing sibling. However, that is a common reaction. The reality is that siblings may often feel the same concerns that their parents do but they don't have the world experience or the coping strategies to fully understand or deal with those concerns. So, some overt instruction, guidance and support from the SLP can go a long way to helping the whole family.
Kathleen J. Abendroth, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA. She specializes in the area of child language including developmental disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and literacy development.