The challenges and rewards of living with a sibling with autism

How does autism affect the sibling relationship in families with an autistic adolescent family member? Our Research Officer Dr Sebastian Trew investigated this as part of his PhD. He has just had an open access article published, Close relationships despite the challenges: sibling relationships and autism, addressing the findings and implications.

Seb focused on the perspectives of siblings, rather than adult family members (a more common approach to research). Looking into the relationship between brothers and sisters offered new insights.

He interviewed 10 adolescents aged15–18 years (six females and four males), engaging them as active social agents in their life experiences. They told him about the challenges and rewards of living with a sibling with autism. Common themes in their experiences included:

  • There’s a lot of love and getting along
  • They are not just a sibling but a carer too
  • They admitted that sometimes there’s aggression and frustration
  • It helps to have time together and time apart.

The key findings of the study revealed the level of disengagement and absence in the siblings’ relationships; and the unclear boundaries and role confusion observed in the siblings’ relationships. This study highlights the crucial role practitioners can play in supporting families of autistic adolescents. While the sample size is small, the study offers tailored guidance and practice suggestions for family therapists when developing an intervention with adolescent siblings and their families.

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