A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Fall, 2018 | Number 4, Volume 32

Siblings of children with ASD may struggle more than other children do

Siblings of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have more social, psychological, and behavioral problems than other children, a new study suggests. 

Carolyn Shivers and colleagues analyzed results from 69 independent studies involving more than 6,600 children with siblings with ASD and more than 21,000 controls. All of the siblings in the studies were at least five years old, and most studies included control groups of siblings of neurotypical children or siblings of children with disabilities other than ASD. When studies did not include a control group, Shivers and colleagues compared the siblings of children with ASD with age-matched controls from other studies of comparable size. 

Their findings, the researchers say, suggest that siblings of children with ASD have “significantly more negative outcomes” than controls, although the differences were small in magnitude. Specifically, they say, siblings of children with ASD have more internalizing behavior problems such as worrying or withdrawal, more negative beliefs about disability, poorer psychological functioning, poorer social functioning, and poorer sibling relationships. In addition, studies based on clinical evaluations showed that they had more problems with anxiety or depression. However, the researchers detected no significant differences in adjustment, attention problems or hyperactivity, externalizing behavior problems such as aggression or delinquency, coping strategies, or family functioning (although studies based on clinical evaluations hinted at increased problems with ADHD and externalizing behavior problems). 

Overall, the researchers say, the siblings of children with ASD functioned at a lower level compared to siblings of children with no disabilities and siblings of children with other intellectual or developmental disabilities. 

Shivers notes that whether studies analyzed data collected from siblings or parents, the results were consistent. “To me,” she says, “that says this is a real thing going on: It’s not just siblings being overdramatic or parents being too worried.” 

The researchers say their findings indicate that “policymakers and clinicians should make a concerted effort to expand support efforts to include all members of the family [of a child with ASD], including typically developing siblings.”


“Functioning among typically developing siblings of individuals with autism spectrum disorder: a meta-analysis,” C. M. Shivers, J. B. Jackson, and C. M. McGregor, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, September 3, 2018 (online). Address: Carolyn M. Shivers, Virginia Tech, Human Development and Family Science, 309 Wallace Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, [email protected]


 “Siblings of children with autism have social, emotional problems,” Jessica Wright, Spectrum News, October 11, 2018.