Fostering inclusive connections: tips for the extended family

Tip for extended family members to connect with autistic children.

Extended family members can be a great source of support for families with autistic children. We hear time and time again how much help families receive from their parents, siblings, cousins, aunties, and uncles. From picking the kids up from our centre at the end of each day to dropping siblings off at school each morning, the support families receive from their extended family is often described as immeasurable.

Along with those heartwarming stories, we also receive questions from parents about how to best support family members in engaging with a child with autism.

No two families or children are the same, so there aren’t any hard and fast rules. However, we thought it might be helpful for you to read answers to some questions our families have recently asked us.

Question 1:

My mum is concerned about how to build a strong bond with my son, Sam*, and how she should interact with him in relation to the other grandchildren in the family.

How can I support my mum in building a lovely relationship with Sam?

Response: Reassure your mum that she can build a beautiful bond with Sam. Like with all children, remind her that it is essential to first learn about Sam. Help her understand what he enjoys, what he does not like, and if there is anything Sam is scared of.

Encourage your mum to connect with Sam by doing activities with him that he likes. These may differ to what the other children in the family enjoy, but that’s okay; all kids have different preferences. Some kids like playing Pokemon or Barbies, while Sam may enjoy jumping, doing ABC puzzles, or spinning on the swing. Help your mum identify those things and encourage her to join in with him!

Question 2:

How can I support my sister when she is babysitting my daughter, Harper*.

What should she do if Harper has a meltdown?

Response: There are a few things that can often be helpful in these sorts of situations. Our biggest recommendation is to spend a bit of time preparing things to set everyone up for success!

Ensure things like your child’s preferred snacks are on hand, favourite toys are out, and anything potentially unsafe or bothersome is packed away. If you don’t want Harper to dig into that box of chocolates, put it out of sight to avoid any potential frustration or meltdowns around it.

It would also be useful to provide your sister with some tools and strategies she can pull out if Harper does have a meltdown. One thing we suggest is redirection. This means having something your daughter enjoys on standby in the event she becomes agitated or upset. For example, if Harper becomes distressed because it’s raining and it’s time to come inside, your sister can say, “We have to come inside now because it’s raining, and we can play with the kinetic sand”. Hopefully, this will help her not be as upset about coming inside because there is something else fun to do!

Do you have any questions about extended families and autism that you’d like us to answer?

Email us your question on, and we will answer it in an upcoming newsletter!

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

About the Author

Andrea Radcliffe is a Senior Behaviour Consultant and Family Services Mentor at Autism Partnership. She has worked in the field of contemporary behavioural analysis for over 20 years, spanning  Australia, Canada and the USA. Andrea has completed a Diploma in Community Rehabilitation, holds a Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Counselling), and is a Tuning Into Kids Practitioner.