Question: What issues should I look for in siblings of a child with autism, and are support groups helpful for siblings?
Answer: It's very common for siblings to have difficulties over the course of time. One common problem are when siblings are jealous about the time required, that parents need to spend with a child with an autistic disorder, or difficulty doing day-to-day life activities, such as going to the store or taking a vacation.
Sometimes siblings can be afraid of aggression from their sibling. They may at times have difficulties getting in a caretaking role, where they try to do adult-level cares for their sibling, or taking care of stressed parents.
Parents, of all their kids, can help, by creating special one-to-one time for every other sibling. This can be limited, or brief, but set aside and very special time for the other sibling.
A second thing parents can do is to educate siblings about the nature of the disorder in simple ways that are appropriate for the developmental level of that sibling.
For example, they may explain that their brother has difficulty with using words, or difficulty looking them in the eye. And parents can give siblings some simple strategies to use, such as making sure they have the attention of the sibling, or asking the sibling to leave them alone.
Lastly, it's important for parents to make sure that siblings can still be kids, and not put them in caretaking roles that are inappropriate for their level.
Over time, many siblings find tremendous support from support groups, and parents may encourage or even require younger children to attend one of those groups to see if they find it helpful. I wouldn't encourage parents to force attendance to sibling support groups, however.
Over time, many siblings learn to manage that relationship very well.