The Impacts of Autism on the Non-Disabled Sibling

Date of Award


Document Type


First Advisor

Ann Kakaliouras


This study investigates the social effects of living with an autistic brother or sister by looking into the types of impacts it has on the non-disabled sibling’s family dynamics, their social environment, and their psychosocial development. There has been little research focused on siblings, and findings on the effects of having autistic siblings are also mixed (Hesse, Danko, and Budd 2013). Though interest has increased in the last few years (Gold and McCabe 2012), the majority of theories in existing studies focus on the psychological adjustments of individuals with autistic siblings (Barak-Levy et al. 2010; Giallo and Gavidia-Payne 2006; Ross and Cuskelly 2006). Most studies lack an anthropological-sociological perspective. The methods used to approach this research were a survey and interviews. Results showed that siblings were affected in different areas of their lives, but one area that remained consistently impacted was their family dynamics. Interviews revealed that participants felt that having an autistic sibling negatively affected family relationships, though a few expressed positive outcomes like family unity and strength. Common themes found in interviews were: lack of parental attention, additional responsibilities, and a lack of closeness with their autistic sibling. Survey results supported this finding, indicating that having an autistic sibling had the highest impact on family relationships and family activities/outings, and the lowest impact on academic achievement, friendships, and romantic relationships. Participants repeatedly expressed a serious need for understanding. Further studies of families with autistic members would allow siblings to feel more understood, both within the sibling community and with those unfamiliar with autism and the effects on the family. Awareness about this family issue would allow siblings to speak more openly about their experience.


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