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Sibling Relationships for Children with Autism: What Makes Siblings 'Click?'

Sibling Relationships for Children with Autism: What Makes Siblings 'Click?'

Kathleen Abendroth, Department of Communication Sciences

March 30, 2009

Introduction

This investigation examines positive sibling relationships for children with ASD. The dynamics of two families, where one typically developing sibling interacted frequently with one sibling who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), were observed and analyzed. Patterns that appeared to facilitate positive sibling relationships in this investigation include: attempts to understand ASD and a sense of obligation. This article adds evidence supporting family-oriented models of practice. Five strategies are discussed to increase sibling interaction in intervention settings and beyond.

Researchers have recently increased calls for family-centered models as a way to improve generalization of speech-language intervention goals in authentic settings (e.g., Girolametto, Pearce, & Weitzman, 1996; Kashinath, Woods, & Goldstein, 2006). The particular model advocated in this investigation, a family-centered model, considers professionals to be partners and agents of families. As a result, families are empowered to make informed decisions that will benefit the family unit. For this reason, the family-centered model is similar to the empowerment model (e.g., Dunst, Boyd, Trivette, & Hamby, 2002; Rappaport, 1987). The purpose of this paper is to examine variables that positively influence the relationship between a child with ASD and his or her typically developing sibling, using the cases of two families.

The sibling bond is a powerful human experience that fulfills many functions and provides mutual benefit to typically developing children across cultures. In typically developing children, siblings provide lifelong relationships and shared experiences, so a tremendous amount of research has been devoted to understanding these relationships (e.g., Buhrmester & Furman, 1990; Goetting, 1986; Harris & Glasberg, 2003; Samuels, 1980; Smith, 1993; Sutton-Smith & Rosenberg, 1970; Weisner & Gallimore, 1977).

One of the most important functions in the sibling relationship revolves around socialization, and in fact, siblings function as "socialization agents" who are interdependent (El-Ghoroury & Romanczyk, 1999; Powell & Gallagher, 1993). Interdependence here refers to the mutual benefit of working cooperatively, analogous to a jigsaw puzzle where each participant contributes and everyone is needed to complete the picture (Lucker, Rosenfield, Sikes, & Aronson, 1976). Most significantly, this jigsaw puzzle analogy emphasizes the contribution of every participant, including the lower functioning sibling. Multiple daily interactions create opportunities for children to increase social and cultural proficiency, and this interaction facilitates cognitive development. Additional research indicates positive correlations between a higher number of siblings (and sibling interactions) and an increased ability to make predictions and demonstrate theory of mind (Perner, Ruffman, & Leekam, 1994).

Family relationships play an important developmental role for all children, but family dynamics become disrupted when one child has a developmental disability. Research on siblings of children with disabilities covers a wide range of categories, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, Down syndrome (DS), epilepsy, deafness, and autism spectrum disorders (e.g., Ascione et al., 1988; Cleveland & Miller, 1977; Harris & Glasberg, 2003; Hastings, 2007; Holl, 1998; Orsmond & Seltzer, 2007; Pruchno, Patrick, & Burant, 1996; Ritchie, 1981; Weisner & Gallimore, 1977). Across disability categories, it appears the presence and severity of a disability has a greater impact on sibling outcomes than a specific diagnosis (Hastings, 2007; McHale, Sloan, & Simeonsson, 1986; Powell & Gallagher, 1993).

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kathleen abendroth

Kathleen Abendroth


department of communication sciences

Department of Communication Sciences



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