Monday 8 July 2019

Asking about "growing up with a sibling with autism"

The findings reported by Philippa Moss and colleagues [1] provide the blogging fodder today, and another important research venture into asking siblings about their experiences of growing up with a brother / sister diagnosed with autism. Such work continues an important theme whereby a diagnosis of autism doesn't just impact on the person concerned, but also on significant others around them too (see here). It also reiterates that the 'nothing about us without us' phrase should really be extended to include siblings as well as parents/primary caregivers and of course, those diagnosed with autism (see here)...

Researchers talked to over 50 adult siblings with a brother and/or sister with autism. They asked them questions about growing up with their sibling and importantly "about their worries for the future." The results provided an important snapshot into the experiences of siblings. It was a mixed bag in terms of positive and negative experiences; where themes like tolerance and caring were discussed in relation to how their autistic sibling had positively impacted on their lives. The not-so-positive themes included things like "coping with behavioural difficulties (39%) and disruption to family relationships (32%) or social life (23%)."

There was another important observation to come from the Moss study too: "The main concerns for the future, expressed by the majority of participants, focussed on problems of finding appropriate care (77%) and the potential emotional impact on the autism siblings of loss of parents." Such sentiments take us into some difficulty territory as the issue of long-term care comes into the discussion, alongside other issues voiced by parents such as 'why I can never die' (see here).

Given that siblings will probably emerge as the primary caregiver or at least responsible person when it comes to their brother(s) / sister(s) with autism as parents age, one can see the logic in the suggestion from Moss to "involve siblings in care planning and decision-making." Support for siblings is also required to prepare them for the future and ensure that the sentiments of 'caring for the carers' extends to them too.


[1] Moss P. et al. Growing older with autism – The experiences of adult siblings of individuals with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2019; 63: 42-51.


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