Category: Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders

PS6- #B62 - Associations Between Siblings' Understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Sibling Relationship

Friday, Nov 17
2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Families | Autism Spectrum Disorders


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that impacts not only the affected child, but also parents and unaffected siblings (UAS). Families in which a child has ASD report higher levels of stress (Eisenhower et al., 2005; Quintero & McIntyer, 2010), less frequent use of adaptive coping strategies (Hastings et al., 2005) and are at greater risk for psychological difficulties (Glasberg, 2000; Dunn et al., 2001). In particular, UAS face unique stressors. In an estimated 73% of ASD cases, an UAS becomes the caregiver after the death of the parents (Gidden, 2007). These sibling relationships have been described as less close, less reciprocal, and more stressful than other sibling relationships (Orsmond & Seltzer, 2007; Stoneman, 2007). In addition, siblings within affected families spend less time together compared to typical sibling pairs (Knott et al, 1995).The present study aims to examine what UAS understand about autism and how their understanding affects the sibling relationship. We predicted that increased understanding of ASD would lead to improved ratings of the sibling relationship.



The sample included 46 UAS (Mean age = 9.93). UAS completed an interview on their understanding of ASD (Glasberg, 2000) and self-report measures regarding the sibling relationship. Parents completed questionnaires on the their observations of the sibling relationship. To test our hypotheses that understanding of ASD would affect the sibling relationship, we conducted correlations between understanding of ASD and measures of the sibling relationship.



We found that the more UAS understood about the implications of having ASD (i.e., how one’s life is affected by having ASD), the less positive the UAS feelings about their sibling were (r = -0.512, p = 0.021), the more parents saw the UAS as in the dominant role (r = 0.627, p = 0.003), and reported more conflict in the relationship (r = 0625, p = 0.003).



Our findings indicate that the more UAS understand about the implications of their siblings’ disorder, the more the UAS reports negative feelings. This finding is consistent with literature indicating that UAS often experience negative feelings (e.g., guilt, jealousy) about their sibling with ASD (Gray, 1998). Parent report indicates that UAS who understand the implications of ASD may take on more of a care-taking role for their sibling, which may prompt more conflict within the relationship. This is concordant with research on the parentification of siblings of children with a disorder or disability (Giallo et al., 2006). 

Marika Coffman

Virginia Tech

Nicole Kelso

William Patterson University

Ligia Antezana

Clinical Science Graduate Student
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia

Braconnier Megan

Yale Child Study Center

John A. Richey

Virginia Tech

Julie Wolf

Yale Child Study Center