Siblings of children with intellectual disabilities score high on empathy and closeness

January 14, 2020

The sibling relationship is the longest most people will enjoy in their lifetimes and is central to the everyday lives of children. A new Tel Aviv University and University of Haifa study finds that relationships between children and their siblings with intellectual disabilities are more positive than those between typically developing siblings.

The research examines the relationships of typically developing children with siblings with and without intellectual disabilities through artwork and questionnaires. It was conducted by Prof. Anat Zaidman-Zait of the Department of School Counseling and Special Education at TAU's Constantiner School of Education and Dr. Dafna Regev and Miri Yechezkiely of the University of Haifa's Graduate School of Creative Art Therapies. The study was recently published in Research in Developmental Disabilities.

"Having a child with a disability in a family places unique demands on all family members, including typically developing siblings," Prof. Zaidman-Zait explains. "Although challenges exist, they are often accompanied by both short- and long-term positive contributions.

"Through our research, we found that relationships among children with siblings with intellectual disabilities were even more supportive than those among typically developed siblings. Specifically, we found that children with siblings with intellectual disabilities scored higher on empathy, teaching and closeness and scored lower on conflict and rivalry than those with typically developing siblings."

Until now, research on how having a sibling with a developmental disability affects children's social-emotional and behavioral outcomes generated mixed findings. At times, the findings suggested that having a sibling with developmental disabilities led to greater variability in typically developing children's behavior and adjustment.

"But these studies did little to tap into the inner worlds of children, which really can only be accessed through self-expression in the form of art or self-reporting, independent of parental intervention, which is the route we took in our study," Prof. Zaidman-Zait says.

The scientists assessed some 60 children aged 8-11, half with typically developing siblings, half with intellectually disabled siblings, through drawings and a questionnaire about their relationships with their siblings. Mothers of both sets of siblings were also asked to answer a questionnaire about their children's sibling relationship quality.

"We drew on the basic assumption that artistic creation allows internal content to be expressed visually and that children's self-reports have special added value in studies measuring sibling relationship qualities, especially in areas where parents might have less insight," Prof. Zaidman-Zait says.

Both sets of typically developing children, with and without siblings with intellectual disabilities, were asked to draw themselves and their siblings. Licensed art therapists then used several set criteria to "score" the illustrations: the physical distance between the figures; the presence or absence of a parent in the illustration; the amount of detail invested in either the self-portrait or the sibling representation; and the amount of support given to a sibling in the picture. The children were then asked to complete the Sibling Relationship Questionnaire, which assessed the feelings of closeness, dominance, conflict and rivalry they felt for their siblings.

Reviewing the children's illustrations and questionnaires, as well as the questionnaires completed by the children's mothers, the researchers found that the children with siblings with intellectual disabilities scored significantly higher on empathy, teaching and closeness in their sibling relationship and scored lower on conflict and rivalry in the relationships than those with typically developing siblings.

"Our study makes a valuable contribution to the literature by using an art-based data gathering task to shed new light on the unique aspects of the relationships of children with siblings with intellectual disabilities that are not revealed in verbal reports," Prof. Zaidman-Zait concludes. "We can argue that having a family member with a disability makes the rest of the family, including typically developing children, more attentive to the needs of others."

The researchers hope their study, supported by The Shalem Foundation in Israel, will serve as a basis for further research into art-based tools that elicit and document the subjective experience of children.
-end-
American Friends of Tel Aviv University supports Israel's most influential, comprehensive and sought-after center of higher learning, Tel Aviv University (TAU). TAU is recognized and celebrated internationally for creating an innovative, entrepreneurial culture on campus that generates inventions, startups and economic development in Israel. TAU is ranked ninth in the world, and first in Israel, for producing start-up founders of billion-dollar companies, an achievement that surpassed several Ivy League universities. To date, 2,500 US patents have been filed by Tel Aviv University researchers -- ranking TAU #1 in Israel, #10 outside of the US and #66 in the world.

American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Related Relationships Articles from Brightsurf:

Gorilla relationships limited in large groups
Mountain gorillas that live in oversized groups may have to limit the number of strong social relationships they form, new research suggests.

Electronic surveillance in couple relationships
Impaired intimacy, satisfaction, and infidelity in a romantic relationship can fuel Interpersonal Electronic Surveillance (IES).

'Feeling obligated' can impact relationships during social distancing
In a time where many are practicing 'social distancing' from the outside world, people are relying on their immediate social circles more than usual.

We can make predictions about relationships - but is this necessary?
'Predictions as to the longevity of a relationship are definitely possible,' says Dr Christine Finn from the University of Jena.

Disruptions of salesperson-customer relationships. Is that always bad?
Implications from sales relationship disruptions are intricate and can be revitalizing.

Do open relationships really work?
Open relationships typically describe couples in which the partners have agreed on sexual activity with someone other than their primary romantic partner, while maintaining the couple bond.

The 7 types of sugar daddy relationships
University of Colorado Denver researcher looks inside 48 sugar daddy relationships to better understand the different types of dynamics, break down the typical stereotype(s) and better understand how these relationships work in the United States.

Positive relationships boost self-esteem, and vice versa
Does having close friends boost your self-esteem, or does having high self-esteem influence the quality of your friendships?

Strong family relationships may help with asthma outcomes for children
Positive family relationships might help youth to maintain good asthma management behaviors even in the face of difficult neighborhood conditions, according to a new Northwestern University study.

In romantic relationships, people do indeed have a 'type'
Researchers at the University of Toronto show that people do indeed have a 'type' when it comes to dating, and that despite best intentions to date outside that type -- for example, after a bad relationship -- some will gravitate to similar partners.

Read More: Relationships News and Relationships Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.