Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Sibling Relationships and Parent Stress in Families of Children with and without Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Sibling Relationships and Parent Stress in Families of Children with and without Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. The present study investigated whether (a) siblings of children with (LD) and without learning disabilities (NLD) differed in terms of psychological adjustment and perceived impact of their target brother or sister, and (b) whether parents of LD and NLD children differed in terms of perceived stress and burden. Based on Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores of target child behavior, families were divided into four groups: (a) No LD and no behavior problems (BP), (b) LD only, (c) BP only, and (d) LD and BP. Siblings (n=71) and their parents (n=67) were interviewed in their homes. Regardless of whether the target child was LD or NLD, parent reports of the internalizing and externalizing behavior scores from the CBCL differentially reflected the presence of behavior problems. The results indicated that (a) LD and NLD siblings differed in their perception of the quality of their sibling relationships and self-reports of their own behavior, and (b) the parents of children reported to have a behavior problem with or without LD reported higher levels of perceived burden. A substantial indicator of the impact of a child with LD on siblings and parents was related to whether children with LD also had behavior problems.

Studies examining the impact of the presence of a child with learning disabilities (LD) on the family are emerging (Falik, 1995; Fish & Jain, 1985; Margalit & Almougy, 1991; Perosa & Perosa, 1988; Switzer, 1990). By nature, these children are at risk for problem behaviors, such as noncompliance with parents and teachers, difficulty with impulse control, distractibility, and disruptive and immature social behaviors (Bloom, 1990; Cordoni, 1990; Dyson, 1993; Mearig, 1992; Silver, 1988). Due to their academic and social-emotional difficulties, peers, both in school and play situations, often reject children with LD.

In spite of the growing interest in family systems research, studies that mention the significance of sibling relationships of children with LD are rare (see Minuchin, 1988, for a review). Most of the assumptions about the experiences of these siblings have been drawn from research on the development of typical sibling relationships and the extensive work on sibling impact in families of children with mental retardation and other disabilities. For example, parents may expect siblings of children with LD to perform better in school or to excel in extracurricular activities. These expectations may lead to a range of positive reactions including the development of patience, empathy, understanding, and tolerance for those with differences, as well the ability to take on responsibility at an early age (Dyson, 1993; Lobato, 1990; Waggoner & Wilgosh, 1990). Conversely, some of the negative reactions that have been reported, perhaps due in part to parental expectations, include anger and resentment over what is perceived to be differential treatment from parents, care demands, embarrassment due to sibling appearance or maladaptive behavior, fear that they too will catch the disability, high parental demands for achievement, and guilt over harboring resentment or negative thoughts of the sibling (Farber, 1960; Gath, 1974; Gogan & Slavin, 1981; Hannah & Midlarsky, 1985; Lobato, 1990; McHale, Sloan, & Simeonsson, 1986; Stoneman, Brody, Davis, & Crapps, 1988).

Another issue that has been raised is the possibility that role tension may develop between siblings in families of children with disabilities. The notion of role tension was first introduced by Farber (1960) in the literature pertaining to families of children with mental retardation. In families where the child with MR was older than the nondisabled siblings, Farber (1960) found that the younger siblings would developmentally "catch up" and eventually pass the child with MR, thereby creating tension in the sibling relationship. In essence, younger siblings tend to assume the role of the older sibling in families of children with MR. …

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