Effects of a Psychoeducational Group on Siblings of Children with ASD

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
N. W. Buerger1, L. Tuesday Heathfield2 and J. Kircher3, (1)Department of Psychiatry, Univeristy of Utah Medical School, Salt Lake City, UT, (2)Educational Psychology, Univeristy of Utah/Canyons School District, Salt Lake City, UT, (3)Educational Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Background: Available research on how having a sibling with autism spectrum disorder impacts typically developing children is mixed. Some studies show beneficial effects in the areas of social competence and self-concept and several studies show no additional risk or benefit. There also are many studies that indicate increased risk for adjustment difficulties and diminished quality of sibling relationships. While available research provides no clear answers with regards to impact of autism spectrum disorder on unaffected siblings, it is likely that there are some siblings who may be at risk just as there may be some who are not negatively impacted.

Objectives:  Identify whether a psychoeducational group impacts sibling knowledge of ASD, sibling relationship quality, sibling interaction quality, and parent reported internalizing and externalizing symptoms.

Methods: Twenty-six children, their siblings with autism spectrum disorder, and their parents were participants in this study. All target children participated in two hour, weekly sessions over a period of seven weeks. The program (Siblings Helping Siblings) was partially based on a Sibshop model. Session content included recreational games and crafts, as well as discussions about having a sibling with autism spectrum disorder. Lessons were presented during each class that addressed characteristics of autism spectrum disorder, coping skills, and problem solving skills. Outcome variables were measured at preintervention, postintervention, and 8-10 weeks following intervention. Sibling relationship quality was measured through parent and child report and emotional adjustment was measured through parent report only. Sibling interaction quality was assessed through videotaped observations of dyadic interactions between the target sibling and the sibling with autism spectrum disorder.

Results:  Analysis of variance was used to analyze obtained data. Sibling knowledge of ASD increased following intervention. Results indicated that parent perceptions of sibling relationship quality improved following intervention and increases in positive sibling interaction during unstructured playtime were also found postintervention. Exploratory analyses also suggested positive effects on target siblings’ knowledge of autism spectrum disorder as well as reduction in parent-reported internalizing symptoms in the target children. Results also suggested that response to this intervention program may be impacted to some degree by the sex and diagnostic status of the target child.

Conclusions: These findings imply that there was a significant positive impact on target children after participating in this program. These results paired with high rates of parent and child satisfaction indicate this type of program could be an asset to clinics and schools that serve families affected by autism spectrum disorder. Such programs help service providers meet the needs of not only the child affected with autism spectrum disorder, but also meet the needs of their siblings and potentially other family members. Practitioners who wish to implement such a program should be aware that factors such as sex and disability status of participating children may affect how they respond to the program and adjustments should be considered to ensure the greatest benefit to those participating children. Furthermore, the implications of this study also suggest further research be conducted to further explore variables impacting the effectiveness of such programs.