Sibling Relationships in Families of Children with ASD
Sibling relationships include warm qualities such as affection, companionship, and intimacy, and consist also of conflict, rivalry and power. These relationships are often the longest and most important bonds a person has throughout life (Boer, Dunn, & Dunn, 2013; Gass, Jenkins, & Dunn, 2007). The influential role that Typically Developed (TD) siblings of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) play on their brother or sister’s social and cognitive development was recognized in previous research (Ben-Itzchak & Zachor, 2016). However, little is known about siblings' relationships in families of children with ASD.
Younger siblings of children with ASD have been studied mainly in the context of looking at early signs of ASD in high-risk populations. Few studies have focused on older TD-siblings and on the siblings' relationships (Kaminsky & Dewey, 2001; Rivers & Stoneman, 2003). The limited number of studies on this topic requires additional data, which should be collected in different cultures with diverse methodologies.
- To explore the perspective of the older TD-sibling on his/her relationship with his/her younger sibling with ASD.
- To compare questionnaire results with open-ended answers given during interviews.
Twenty-five sibling dyads (10 same-gender, 15 mixed-gender) participated. Older siblings were TD (M=9.2 years, SD=2.01; 11 boys, 14 girls); younger siblings were diagnosed with ASD (M=6.4 years, SD=1.53; 24 boys, 1 girl).
- Sibling Relationship Questionnaire (SRQ; Furman & Buhrmester, 1985): measures Warmth/Closeness, Relative Status/Power, Conflict, and Rivalry. Items were rated on a 5-point Likert scale (5 indicates high levels of a factor, 1 indicates low levels).
- An open ended oral interview regarding sibling relationships. Each interview was transcribed and analyzed in a qualitative approach.
SRQ factor group means were within average range: Warmth/Closeness M=3.08 (SD=0.678); Relative Status/Power M=2.229 (SD=1.587); Conflict M=2.566 (SD=1.127); Rivalry M=2.9 (SD=0.466). This is in accordance with previous reports (Kaminsky & Dewey, 2001).
Content analysis of the interview data revealed eight categories: particularity of ASD sibling; disparities; conflict; negative reference; positive reference; similarity and closeness; TD-sibling's role; strengths of the ASD sibling.
Without being directly asked, 20% of TD-children chose to describe their siblings' strengths and advantages, and almost 50% described similarity and closeness they share with their siblings. 40% referred to disparities between them and their siblings, and 20% referred to difficulties and the particularity of their siblings. Only one child used the word 'autism' ("I don’t know if my mother told you, but he has autism"). While the SRQ demonstrated a moderate level of conflict, interviews showed that conflicts can be characterized as a strong attribute in the relationships.
- It is important to extend sibling research beyond biological questions to include sibling relationships.
- In line with previous research, our results reveal a generally positive perception of TD-children on their relationships with siblings with ASD.
- Qualitative analysis detected themes absent from the structured questionnaire.
- The study demonstrates the benefits of a mixed methods approach to better understand sibling relationships.
- Future studies will explore the connection between siblings' perception of relationships and actual behaviors during interactions.