Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of a sibling support group in improving the quality of sibling relationships.
Methods: Five 10-week support groups for unaffected siblings of children with ASD were conducted across three age groups (two for ages 6-9, two for ages 10-12, one for ages 13-17; total n=28). An additional group (ages 10-12; n=4) was conducted as a waitlist control group. Group sessions were based on the Sibshop model (Meyer & Vadasy, 1994), with additional activities aimed at educating participants about the nature of ASD and teaching strategies for coping with stress. Several questionnaires assessing the quality of the sibling relationship were administered pre- and post-group (or waitlist period): the Sibling Relationship Questionnaire, Parent- and Self-Report forms (Slomkowski et al., 2001); the Sibling Relationship Scale (modified from Riggio, 2000); and the Satisfaction with the Sibling Relationship Questionnaire (McHale & Gamble, 1989).
Results: Unaffected siblings reported a significant increase in overall satisfaction in their sibling relationship following participation in the support group (p=.01). Several additional findings trended toward significance. Parents noted decreased negative behaviors in their unaffected children directed toward their affected siblings. Interestingly, across two measures, unaffected siblings reported a decrease in positive behaviors directed toward their affected siblings (such as time spent helping, playing, or talking together). No changes were found in the waitlist control group.
Conclusions: The sibling support group was effective in improving participants’ overall satisfaction in their relationship with their sibling with ASD. The contrast between parent ratings and unaffected siblings’ self-report ratings may suggest a general “diffusing” of intensity of the sibling relationship, which unaffected siblings perceive as less positive engagement and parents perceive as reduced negative behaviors. Alternatively, unaffected siblings may develop new insight or greater sensitivity through participation in the group that causes them to evaluate their own actions toward their siblings less positively.
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