Maintaining strong bonds between family members is always ideal in any family. We all want to achieve what is best for our little ones and hope that with the way they are brought up, they carry values and experiences that shape their personalities positively. Having both neurotypical children and children with autism may pose some challenges to that harmonious ideal. So, how can we best integrate the unique characteristics that all of them bring? Well, educating neurotypical children about autism is imperative to the process!
Breaking It Down
The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological disorder that develops in children with a growing population of 400 new cases diagnosed annually in Singapore (NUH, 2022). With this growing frequency, increasing awareness about ASD should be encouraged in order for society to grow more accommodating and accepting. Hence starting with increasing awareness in children can help to speed up that process!
As ASD may be difficult for neurotypical children to understand, it is vital to break it down into simpler terms and explanations. Firstly, it is important to highlight that their sibling with ASD have certain behaviours and differences that may be unique to them. Behaviours such as stimming and having meltdowns are common in ASD.
Neurological dis-regulation is a common occurrence in the everyday life of an individual with ASD. Responding to stressful situations through ‘stimming’ is their way of regulating. As individuals with ASD have deficits in emotional regulation, this substituting behaviour helps them to regulate as much as they can through means like screaming, repetition of words/phrases, flapping of hands, jumping continuously, etc (Wang, 2022). As stimming can come off to neurotypical children as scary or unusual, it is crucial to educate them on such aspects and know that they are not dangerous or they do not stim with intention, in fact it is a neurological reaction that they cannot control, and hence being more understanding towards such occurrences should be encouraged.
Having a nervous meltdown can also occur when there is sensory overload like loud sounds, aggressive lighting, overcrowding, extreme stress, etc. In such circumstances, it can appear as confusing and threatening to other neurotypical children, especially when they are unaware of what to think and do in that given context (Beard, 2021). Your children should know those underlying reasons for such behaviours and how to handle those situations especially when adults are not present. If capable, they should help to remove the child with ASD from the situation or environment. Otherwise, it is best recommended for them to seek help from an adult or call a parent for help. But they should note to never leave their side and that just being there physically is more than enough support for their sibling.
Educating Your Little Ones Through Narratives
Using visual representations like videos or illustrations and narratives through storybooks is a viable form of communication and education for them (Sharnique, 2021). With an evolving population of children, there is an increasing number of storybooks that beautifully and effectively encapsulate real life narratives to educate children on topics that may be more difficult to understand. Incorporating personal elaboration and association between the books and their siblings with ASD can help with comprehension too!
Creating A Safe Space
ASD can be a sensitive topic for a lot of parents who struggle to comprehend and manage it themselves. However, engaging in open conversation about what ASD is with your children can cultivate a safe environment for your neurotypical children to openly ask any questions that they may have about ASD. As some questions can appear to be insensitive or inappropriate to ask others, being given the opportunity to ask you as their primary caretaker without passing judgement can help create clarity and assurance. Being open is one of the more difficult practices to cultivate but it is also one of the more important steps in the process of empathising with their sibling.
Overall, helping your neurotypical child learn more about ASD is a process. It will take time and consistent effort to educate and build a more inclusive family.
Written by: Tara
Autism spectrum disorder - ASD (children): National University Hospital. Diseases & Conditions. (2022, September 6). Retrieved from https://www.nuh.com.sg/Health-Information/Diseases-Conditions/Pages/Autism-(Children).aspx
Beard, J. (2021, September 8). A script for what to say to your neurotypical child about autism. ParentsTogether. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://parents-together.org/a-script-for-what-to-say-to-your-neurotypical-child-about-autism/
News. HealthXchange. (n.d.).
Sharnique. (2021, March 25). How we taught our neurotypical children about autism. Jacksonville Mom. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://jacksonvillemom.com/parenting-wisdom/teaching-neurotypical-children-autism/
Siblings with ASD. Applied Behavioral Analysis | How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst. (2022, May 25). Retrieved March 19, 2023,
Wang, K. (2022, December 6). Autism and Stimming. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/autism-and-stimming/