The Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a broad range of psychological impairments that cause symptoms such as communication problems, repetitive behavior, and decreased social functioning. Parents of children with any psychological problem experience elevated levels of stress and heightened tension within the family unit. “Because of the unique characteristics of ASD, one might assume that there is a difference between the effects of ASD and other disabilities on the sibling relationship and on the social, behavioral, and psychological adjustment of these siblings,” said Tinneke Moyson, Ph.D, and member of the Academic Staff at Ghent University in Belgium. “However, findings regarding the adjustment of siblings of children with ASD, when compared with the adjustment of siblings of children with another type of disability, have been mixed and inconsistent.” Moyson and her colleague, Herbert Roeyers, Professor of Psychology and Education Sciences at Ghent, wanted to get a better idea of exactly how these children felt being a sibling of an ASD child. “Understanding siblings’ experiences and perceived needs is necessary for the development of effective sibling support programs,” said Moyson.
The team interviewed 17 preteens and asked them to describe their quality of life, themselves and what it meant to be a brother or sister. They found that the children saw both positive and negative effects of having a sibling with ASD. “When siblings realize that their brother or sister is different and always will be different, they not only adjust to it, but after a while experience their situation as normal and take advantage of it,” said Moyson. But she added that some characteristics of ASD make it difficult for siblings. “Because of the invisibility of the disability, siblings are not always recognized as having a ‘special’ brother or sister.” She added, “Because they have no other choice than to adjust to their specific situation, siblings not only learn to consider their situation as normal but also to refuse themselves permission to complain.” Moyson believes her findings have significant implications. “Social workers, psychologists, teachers, clinicians, and all other professionals working with families of children with ASD need to recognize the sibling’s unique experience and at least make this position visible.”
Moyson, Tinneke, and Herbert Roeyers. “The Quality of Life of Siblings of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Exceptional Children 78.1 (2011): 41-55. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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