Current Content
Volume 42 - Number 2
March/April 2016

Sibling Experiences: Living with Young Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Beth Ward, Brianna Smith Tanner, Barbara Mandleco, Tina T. Dyches, and Donna Freeborn

Like other young people, those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an impact on siblings in both positive and negative ways. Research indicates positive attributes include maturity and responsibility; positive self-concept; less quarrelling and competition; admiration for the person with ASD; and satisfactory sibling relationships. Negative attributes include fear of frightening or violent behavior, decreased sibling intimacy, and social and emotional difficulties. However, most research relies on information from parents/teachers, rather than from siblings. Therefore, this qualitative descriptive study explored experiences of 11 brothers and 11 sisters living with a young person with ASD through audiorecorded semi-structured interviews. Analysis revealed the overall theme was contradiction. Participants recognized difficulties (decreased parental attention, extra responsibility, bothersome behaviors, communication difficulties) and positive aspects (became empathetic, loved and appreciated the child, realized the experience was life-changing) of living with a young person with ASD. Younger siblings frequently reflected on childhood experiences, wished they could play together, and mentioned what the young person could do. Adolescent siblings learned life lessons from the experience, talked about life changes when ASD was diagnosed, and seemed introspective and protective toward the young person with ASD. Male siblings often wished they played more often while growing up with the young person, and frequently mentioned the child/adolescent's aggressive behaviors; female siblings focused on relationship and communication difficulties of the young person ASD. Interventions to help siblings provide positive behavioral support, engage in developmentally appropriate play, and communicate reciprocally are warranted. Nurses can help parents understand siblings' perceptions and can encourage parents to support siblings.