Experience of adolescent siblings of brothers with autism spectrum disorder explored


The authors of this qualitative study were interested in looking at the experiences of growing up with a brother or sister with an autism spectrum disorder from the perspective of their siblings.

What they did was carry out a number of semi-structured interviews with 12 typically developing adolescents who had a brother with an autism spectrum disorder. They used interpretative phenomenological analysis to analyse the results. This is an approach used in qualitative psychological research which helps the researcher to gain insights into how any given person, in any given context might make sense of any given phenomenon, in this case relating to the subjects’ experiences of personal experience of growing up with their sibling.

What they found was that there were six themes that emerged from the analysis of the data:

  • difficulties and negative impact of their brother’s condition on themselves and their family
  • how others’ reactions to their brother negatively affected them as siblings
  • how their histories with their brothers contextualised their present circumstances
  • the varying degrees of acceptance and tolerance towards their brothers
  • positive perceptions and experiences with their brothers
  • their thoughts and worries about the future

The authors conclude that their findings support the notion that there are specific support needs for adolescent siblings and these include offering help in developing skills in managing others’ reactions and openly discussing concerns about their brother’s future.

The perceptions and experiences of adolescent siblings who have a brother with autistic spectrum disorder, Petalas M et al., in Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 37, 4, 303-314

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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