Sibling Caregivers: Assessing the Role of Caregiving Duties and Social Support on Behavioral Issues

Autism affects 1 of 50 children in the United States (Blumberg et al., 2013). Given its high rate of occurrence, many children are growing and providing care for siblings in a family context that contains an autistic child. Due to this provision of care, adolescent siblings may experience higher levels of negative behaviors, such as internalizing (e.g., depression, anxiety) and externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression). It was hypothesized that elevated levels of caregiving would be related to higher levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors. It was also hypothesized that high and low levels of social support for caregiving would be related to internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Finally, parent and adolescent ratings of adolescents’ internalizing and externalizing behaviors were compared. Twenty-two typically developing adolescent siblings of autistic children, between the ages of 14 and 19 years, and one parent of each autistic child participated in this study. Recruitment occurred through the autistic children’s junior high schools, local autism societies and groups, and social media. Data collection took place via telephone. Measures included an autism severity measure, an assessment of the caregiving and domestic tasks performed by sibling caregivers, The Child Behavior Checklist (parent version and youth version), the Social Support Scale for Adolescent Caregivers, and the neuroticism subscale from the NEO. Adolescents reported participating in domestic chores and having a large amount of responsibility for domestic chores within the family. Parental reports of higher externalizing and internalizing behaviors corresponded with adolescent reports of higher externalizing and internalizing behaviors. In both cases, adolescents reported relatively higher levels of behaviors than did their parents. There was no support for the hypotheses that greater caregiving and domestic responsibilities would be related to behavioral outcomes or that these relationships would be moderated by social support.