An Examination of Life Satisfaction of Caregivers and Typically Developing Siblings of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Having a child with ASD can present unique challenges for other family members. Research on parents of children with ASD has found increased risk of negative outcomes associated with parenting a child with ASD, including heightened parental stress (e.g., Dabrowska & Pisula, 2010) and depression and anxiety (e.g., Sharpley et al. 1997). With respect to outcomes for typically-developing (TD) siblings of children with ASD, results are mixed (e.g., Meaden et al., 2010). Recently, research has begun to also focus on more positive outcomes for parents of children with ASD, such as life satisfaction (e.g., Ekas & Whitman, 2010). Given that life satisfaction and subjective well-being have been shown to be positively related to better health outcomes (Diener et al., 2017), further examining correlates of these positive outcomes is particularly important for family members of children with ASD.
The present study sought to 1) explore life satisfaction in caregivers and TD siblings of children with ASD, 2) examine relations between symptom severity of the child with ASD and life satisfaction of caregivers and TD siblings, and 3) examine relations between parental distress and life satisfaction of TD siblings.
Participants included 106 families of children with ASD ages 3 to 17 years (M = 11.47, SD = 4.00), with at least a primary caregiver (M = 41.40, SD = 5.12) and a TD sibling (ages 11 to 17 years; M = 13.76, SD = 1.91) serving as respondents. Of these 106 families, 68 families had a secondary caregiver (M = 42.87, SD = 6.91) who also participated. Caregivers completed measures to assess ASD symptom severity in their children with ASD, a self-report measure of overall distress, and a self-report measure of overall life satisfaction. TD siblings completed a self-report measure of their emotional/behavioral difficulties and a self-report measure of life satisfaction.
Regarding life satisfaction, for both primary and secondary caregivers rated their average life satisfaction rating fell in the “slightly satisfied” range. Results indicated no significant relation between autism symptom severity in children with ASD and life satisfaction for primary caregivers (r = -.12, p = .230) or secondary caregivers (r = -.09, p = .468). TD siblings’ average life satisfaction rating fell in the “mostly satisfied” range, almost reaching the “pleased” range. Again, results revealed no significant correlation between autism symptoms severity in children with ASD and life satisfaction for TD siblings (r = -.14, p = .144). Results also indicated no significant association between primary caregivers’ distress and TD siblings’ life satisfaction (r = -.16, p = .106).
In general, caregivers and TD siblings in the current sample reported relatively high levels of life satisfaction. Moreover, their overall life satisfaction was unrelated to autism symptom severity of their family member with ASD. This study highlights that family members seem to be displaying resiliency regardless of the level of autism symptom severity. Additionally, the present study emphasizes the importance of researchers continuing to explore positive outcomes for family members of children with ASD.