An Examination of the Parentification and Infantilization Experiences of Typically-Developing Siblings of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
A. K. Nuttall1, W. J. Chopik2, F. M. Hasan3 and P. R. Dery3, (1)Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, (2)Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, (3)Human Development and Family Studies, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Children’s caregiving roles occur on a spectrum where moderate levels are expected to be beneficial for children in contrast to low parental expectations which are expected to underestimated children’s abilities and lead to underfunctioning (infantilization) and high parental expectations expected to overburden children (parentification) (Jurkovic, 1997). Parentification is a multi-dimensional construct recognizing that parentification roles differ with regards to providing caregiving for parents and siblings (Hooper et al., 2011) and instrumental and emotional caregiving (Jurkovic, 1997). Moreover, parentification is particularly burdensome when there is poor parental maintenance of boundaries (Kerig, 2005) or children perceive roles as unfair or of few personal benefits (Jurkovic, 1997).

Research has examined parentification adjustment outcomes among typically-developing siblings (TDS) of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (Tomeny et al., 2016; 2017). However, this literature has not yet examined infantilization, nor compared the experiences of TDS to the experiences of siblings who do not have a sibling or family member with a disability. Such work can identify whether TDS are at increased risk for parentification and/or infantilization. Moreover, in order to elucidate TDS’ experiences it is critical to examine parentification as a multi-dimensional construct consistent with parentification theory.

Objectives: We compared role experiences of TDS of individuals with ASD with those of siblings who did not have a family member with a disability. Specifically, we examined each key dimension of parentification (parent-focused, sibling-focused, emotional, instrumental roles, parental maintenance of boundaries, perceptions of unfairness and benefits associated with roles) and the converse of parentification, infantilization. We hypothesized that TDS of children with ASD would experience more role violations than siblings from families without a disability.

Methods: Online surveys about roles were collected from participants who self-identified as TDS of individuals diagnosed with ASD (Autism, ASD, Asperger’s, and Pervasive Developmental Disability) (n=108) and siblings from families in which no members had disabilities. We used propensity score 1-1 matching on family constellation and demographic variables to select the final comparison sample. Sample characteristics are reported in Table 1 (age 18-25; N=216).

Results: Results from independent sample t-tests indicated that TDS experienced greater mean levels of parent-focused and sibling-focused parentification and instrumental parentification. There were no significant group differences with regards to emotional parentification or infantilization. TDS reported higher mean levels of role unfairness and lower mean levels of parental boundary maintenance and benefits associated with parentification roles (See Table 2).

Conclusions: Findings indicate the importance of parentification theory for understanding the experiences of TDS. Parents of TDS of individuals with ASD expect more, but not less, of TDS in comparison to families who do not have a member with a disability. TDS engaged in greater levels of instrumental (but not emotional) caregiving and provided support for not only siblings with ASD but also parents, with parents providing poor maintenance of familial boundaries. TDS’ reports reflected perceptions of their roles as unfair and not beneficial to the TDS, suggesting a burdensome experience for TDS.