SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS AND PARENT STRESS IN FAMILIES OF CHILDREN WITH AND WITHOUT LEARNING DISABILITIES.
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. Siblings of children with LD could also experience this role reversal if they move past their siblings both cognitively and socially.
Parents may also experience tension with respect to their relationship to the child with LD. For example, it has been reported that some parents experience frustration on a daily basis as they try to assist their children with completing homework, making decisions, and giving instructions to the child concerning household chores (Bloom, 1990; Cordoni, 1990; Donawa, 1995; Mearig, 1992). The presence of a child with LD has been cited as a source of anxiety for families as well as an explanation for lower levels of coherence, less emphasis on family members' personal growth, and a reason for greater emphasis on control within the family (Brown & Pacini, 1989; Margalit & Heiman, 1986; Margalit, Raviv, & Ankonina, 1992; Toro, Weissberg, Guare, & Liebenstein, 1990). Taken together, compared to typical families, parents of children with LD are at risk for emotional, physical, and/or social stress.
Presently, there are several unanswered questions concerning sibling relationships in families of children with LD. First, what is the impact of children with LD on siblings? Second, do sibling relationships in families of children with LD follow the pattern of potential positive or negative experiences found in typical sibling relationships or do they differ? Third, if, as it has been reported in the literature (e.g., Bloom, 1990; Cordoni, 1990; Dyson, 1993; Mearig, 1992; Silver, 1988), families of children with LD are characterized by higher levels of anxiety, overprotection, rigidity, and family discord, then to what extent do these factors relate to behavior problems? Given the 5% prevalence of LD in the general public school population (U.S. Department of Education, 1992), it is probable that a large number of siblings are affected by the presence of a brother or sister with a LD in the family, but no empirical study has directly examined these effects on the social and cognitive development of siblings (Dyson, 1993).
There were three main purposes of this investigation. One was to determine whether the presence of a child with LD, with or without reported behavior problems, impacts upon the psychological well-being and self-concept of his or her siblings, compared to siblings in families of children without LD. A second purpose was to determine the quality of the sibling relationship and perceived sibling impact in families of children with LD. A third purpose of this research was to find out whether or not a child with LD was perceived by parents to have a negative impact on the family in terms of emotional, physical, and/or social stress. In addressing all three purposes, we have controlled for the presence or absence of behavior problems in LD and NLD (control) groups.
Participants were recruited from two large school districts in southern California. The families of the participants with LD were randomly selected from two address lists of 1,100 names provided by the school districts. Likewise, the families of the participants without LD were randomly selected from one of the school districts, from a separate address list of 1,800 names. Letters were sent to the families. Families who responded were contacted by phone. Those who met the requirements during the initial phone screening had: (a) only one child with LD, and (b) other children living at home, between the ages of 9 and 18 years, with no known disabilities or known behavior disorders.
Families of children in the NLD group were asked the same questions from the Devereux Behavior Rating Scale. Based on the initial phone interview, a target child was selected from the NLD group. In addition, a sibling for both the LD and NLD group was selected to be interviewed. During this initial phone call, the parent was also asked to complete a 10-minute behavior screening about the target child, and a home interview was scheduled with the parent and sibling. In families of children with LD, the child with LD was the target child. In the final pool of target children, there were 37 children for the LD group and 30 children for the NLD group. In the final pool of siblings, there were 39 children for the LD group and 32 for the NLD group. In each of the four groups, two siblings from one family were interviewed about the same target child, bringing the total up from 67 siblings (plus four) to 71 siblings.
All participants with LD were enrolled in regular education classes but also attended the school resource specialist program. The diagnosis of a learning disability was determined by the following factors: (a) identification of a learning disability by the school district assessment team (the school psychologist, resource specialist, and/or other special education personnel); (b) cut-off scores of 85 or above as measured by the subscales on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Third Edition (WISC III); and (c) cut-off scores at or below the 25th percentile on the subscales of the Woodcock-Johnson Achievement Test.
Questions for the behavior screening given over the phone were chosen from two subscales of the Devereux Behavior Rating Scale-School Form for parents and teachers (Naglieri, LeBuffe & Pfeiffer, 1993). The Devereux is a 40-item inventory with 10 items in each of the following four subscales: Interpersonal Problems, Inappropriate Behaviors/Feelings, Depression and Physical Symptoms. Parents were asked 20 questions from the subscales of Interpersonal Problems (10 items) and Inappropriate Behaviors/Feelings (10 items).
During the home interview, the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach, 1991) was administered. Responses were used later to finalize the placement of families into the subgroups of (a) target children with behavior problems or (b) target children without behavior problems. The CBCL for ages 4-18 was completed by the parents for both the target child and the sibling (see the results section for a discussion of the sibling scores). T-scores were obtained for total behavior and internalizing and externalizing behavior. T-scores greater than or equal to 64 were considered clinically significant; scores between 60 and 63 were considered to be in the borderline range. Scores less than or equal to 59 on any of the domains were considered to fall in the normal range.
Families were classified as having children with behavior problems if either the internalizing or the externalizing behavior T-scores fell in the clinical range. If the T-scores fell in the normal range, the families were classified into one of the groups with no BP. Families of target children with T-scores in the borderline range for more than one of the domains were excluded from the study. Thus, four groups of families were created: (a) children without LD and without behavior problems (NLD-NBP), or the control group; (b) children with LD-only (LD-only); (c) children with BP-only (BP-only); and (d) children with LD and with BP (LD w/BP).
Table 1 reports the means and standard deviations of IQ and achievement test scores of children with LD. Multivariate analysis of variance showed no significant differences between subjects with LD-only and subjects with LD and BP for WISC III scores. Likewise, two-way ANOVA procedures failed to yield significant differences between subjects with LD-only and subjects with LD and BP on achievement test scores of broad reading, broad math, and broad writing, as measured by the Woodcock-Johnson Achievement Test (Woodcock & Johnson, 1989).
Table 1 Means, Standard Deviations and Statistical Tests of Difference for Scores on Intelligence and Achievement Tests for Participants with LD
LD- LD ONLY W/BP F (N=18) (N=19) Test Intelligence: WISC III Verbal 90.3 85.4 0.85 (13.8) (9.9) Performance 95.8 96.8 0.01 (17.95) (17.5) Full Scale 92.5 89.6 0.21 (16.2) (11.8) Achievement: Woodcock-Johnson Standard Scores: Broad Reading 81.9 88.7 3.14 (18.0) (7.1) 87.9 84.1 0.51 (14.2) (9.4) Broad Writing 72.8 76.8 1.02 (8.1) (10.0)
() = Standard deviation
During the home visit, the interviewer worked with the sibling in one room, while the parent completed the following protocols in another room.
Family demographics data sheet. The Family Demographics Data Sheet consists of items such as the address and phone number of the family, the date of birth for all children in the family, parents' ethnicity, religion, occupation, and socioeconomic status. A single item from the Locke-Wallace scale for marital satisfaction (Locke & Wallace, 1959) was used to measure marital happiness. To complete this question, the respondent places an X along a dotted-line continuum ranging from Very Unhappy to Happy to Perfectly Happy. Responses are coded later on a scale of 0 to 6 points (0=Very Unhappy, 3=Happy and 6=Perfectly Happy). The scale also includes questions about the health of both parents.
Perceived Burden Scale. The Perceived Burden Scale (PBS; Zarit, Reever, & Bach-Peterson, 1980) consists of 29 items that are rated on a 3-point Likert scale (0=not at all, 1=somewhat, 2=extremely). It is designed to measure respondents' feelings about their interactions with their child as well as any feelings of guilt they may be experiencing concerning the child. This instrument also measures parents' feelings about their social life and their perception of the financial burden that they may experience related to their child with disabilities. Originally, this scale was developed to measure stress and burden perceived by caregivers of an aging population (Seltzer & Krauss, 1989; Zarit et al., 1980; Zarit, Todd, & Zarit, 1986). The wording of some items has been changed to adapt to children with and without disabilities. Test-retest reliability is .87.
Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist. The Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach, 1991) is designed to measure parent reports of child and adolescent social competence and behavior problems. It consists of 112 behavior problem items and 17 social competence items. The behavior problem items are scaled as Not True = 0, Somewhat or Sometimes True = 1, and Very True or Often True = 2. The CBCL is scored in terms of the Child Behavior Profile, of which separate editions are standardized for each sex at ages 4-5, 6-11, and 12-16. T-scores are obtained on two factors, labeled Internalizing and Externalizing behaviors. The CBCL has a test-retest reliability of .84 to .97 (Freeman, 1985).
The siblings completed the following protocols.
Sibling Relationship Questionnaire. The Sibling Relationship Questionnaire (SRQ; Furman & Buhrmester, 1985) contains 52 items in a 5-point Likert format (Hardly at All = 1 to Extremely Much = 5); it contains 16 scales that yield five distinct factors: warmth/closeness; relative status/power; conflict; rivalry; and importance/satisfaction. Internal consistency coefficients for the 16 scales all exceed .70. Test-retest reliability ranges from .58 to .86 (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985).
Sibling Impact Questionnaire. The Sibling Impact Questionnaire (SIQ; Eisenberg, Baker, & Blacher, 1998) is a 35-item self-report instrument designed to measure the impact of a child with disabilities on sibling function. Five domains of this instrument include: family/ parent-child relationships; peer relations; feelings about the child with disabilities; future goals and concerns; and personal development. The interviewer read the items from the SIQ. The items consist of a series of statements made by other siblings of children with disabilities, which the subjects were asked to rate on a 6-point Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, disagree, strongly disagree). Reliability ranged from .68 to .84 for a sample of siblings of children with mental retardation (Eisenberg et al., 1998).
The Achenbach CBCL-Youth Self-Report (YSR). This instrument is designed to measure child and adolescent reports of social competence and behavior problems. It consists of 112 behavior problem items and 17 social competence items. The behavior problem items are scaled as Not True = 0, Somewhat or Sometimes True = 1, and Very True or Often True = 2. The CBCL-YSR is scored in terms of the Child Behavior Profile, of which separate editions are standardized for each sex at ages 4-5, 6-11, and 12-16. T-scores are obtained on two factors, labeled Internalizing and Externalizing behaviors. Test-retest reliability ranges from .83 to .87 (Achenbach, 1991).
Table 2 provides the means and standard deviations across groups for target child behavior, as indicated by the internalizing and externalizing behavior T-scores of the CBCL. A 2 (LD vs. NLD) x 2 (BP vs. NBP) MANOVA found a significant multivariate effect for behavior problems, Wilks' lambda = .34, F(3, 61) = 40.26; p [is less than] .0001. A significant effect was also found for the interaction of LD and BP, Wilks' lambda = .86, F(3, 61) = 3.29; p [is less than] .05.
Table 2 Means, Standard Deviations and Statistical Tests of Difference or Percentages for Target Child Behavior
NLD LD- BP- LD NBP ONLY ONLY W/BP F (N=19) (N=18) (N=11) (N=19) Test CBCL Internalizing 47.7 47.5 67.4 65.1 74.6(***) Behavior (8.3) (9.7) (8.6) (7.8) Clinical 0% 0% 55% 53% Borderline 5% 6% 36% 26% Normal 95% 94% 9% 21% CBCL Externalizing 49.10 46.00 64.20 67.80 90.9(***) Behavior (8.2) (8.1) (9.1) (6.9) Clinical 0% 0% 55% 84% Borderline 5% 12% 18% 11% Normal 95% 88% 27% 5%
NBP=No behavior problems.
() = Standard deviation.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .0001.
A two-way factorial ANOVA (LD vs. NLD, BP vs. NBP) revealed significant main effects for BP vs. NBP for internalizing behavior, F(1, 63) = 74.62; p [is less than] .0001, and externalizing behavior, F(1, 63) = 90.85; p [is less than] .0001. As expected, subjects in the BP groups scored higher on internalizing and externalizing behaviors than the subjects in the NBP groups, regardless of whether a learning disability was present. As expected, the variables we used to define the groups showed significant differences.
Sibling characteristics by group are presented in Table 3. In all, 71 siblings were interviewed. For the combined sample, siblings ranged in age from 10 to 18 with a mean of 14 years. Birth order showed that 34% of siblings were born first. The age relationship between the sibling and the target child indicated that 48% of all siblings were older than the target child and 49% were younger. Two pairs of twins participated, accounting for 3% of sibling pairs of the same age.
Table 3 Means, Standard Deviations and Statistical Tests of Difference or Percentages for Selected Sibling Characteristics
NLD LD- BP- LD NBP ONLY ONLY W/BP (N=19) (N=18) (N=11) (N=19) Sibling Age (in years) 15 14 14 14 Male 32% 67% 27% 47% Relationship Older 32% 61% 45% 53% Younger 63% 39% 55% 42% Same (Twins) 5% 0% 0% 5% Gender Pairs Brothers 2 11 2 5 Sisters 6 1 2 4 Brother/Sister 5 2 1 4 Sister/Brother 7 5 7 7 Birth Order Firstborn Siblings 21% 39% 36% 42%
Table 4 summarizes target child variables across groups. Sixty-six percent of the total sample were males. In the group without LD and without BP, 47% of the subjects were males. In the LD-only and the BP-only groups, males made up 83% and 73% of the groups, respectively. In the LD with BP group, 63% of were males. Birth order data revealed that 35% of the total sample were born first and the remaining 65% were born later.
Table 4 Means and Standard Deviations or Percentages of Selected Target Child Characteristics
NLD LD- BP- LD NBP ONLY ONLY W/BP (N=19) (N=18 (N=11) (N=19) Target Child Age (in years) 15 14 14 13 Male 47% 83% 73% 63% Firstborn 58% 22% 45% 16%
Selected family variables are reported in Table 5. The mean number of children per family was three with a range from two to eight. Mothers ranged in age from 28 to 52 years old with a mean of 39. Fathers ranged in age from 30 to 58 years old with a mean of 42. Marital status indicated that 85% of the parents were married, 8% were divorced, 3% were separated, 3% were single parents, and 1% were unmarried and living together. Ethnic distribution for the sample included 72% Caucasian, 5% African-American, and 24% Latino families. All families, with the exception of one, indicated that their primary language was English. All interviews were conducted in English. The parent who reported Spanish as the primary language also spoke and understood fluent English. Sixteen percent of the families indicated that they had no religious affiliation, 33% reported they were Catholic, 24% Protestant, and 23% other religions. Four percent of the sample chose not to answer the question regarding religion.
Table 5 Means and Standard Deviations or Percentages of Selected Family Variables
NLD LD- BP- LD NBP ONLY ONLY W/BP (/=19) (/=18) (/=11) (/=19) Average Number of Children in Family 3 3 3 4 Maternal Age 40 40 39 39 (4.6) (5.4) (4.2) (6.0) Paternal Age 42 44 40 42 (4.0) (7.9) (4.3) (5.8) Marital Status Married 100% 89% 82% 68% Divorced, Single, or Other 0% 11% 18% 32% Ethnicity Caucasian 74% 67% 73% 74% African-American 5% 5% 0% 5% Latino 21% 28% 27% 21% Religion None 21% 11% 9% 21% Catholic 26% 33% 36% 37% Protestant 42% 22% 9% 16% Other 11% 34% 46% 26% Family Income $0 - 29,000 11% 23% 36% 26% $30 - 59,999 42% 47% 46% 58% $60 - 89,999 37% 18% 9% 0% $90,000 + 10% 12% 9% 16% Maternal Education [is greater than] 12 years 5% 22% 18% 5% High school graduate 58% 61% 64% 69% College graduate 37% 17% 18% 26% Maternal Employment Full-time 63% 53% 55% 63% At home 36% 47% 45% 37% Paternal Education [is greater than] 12 years 5% 28% 9% 12% High school graduate 53% 55% 73% 70% College graduate 42% 17% 18% 18% Paternal Employment Employed 95% 89% 89% 82%
Income data indicated that 23% of the families earned $0-29,000, 48% earned $30-59,000, 17% earned $60-89,000, and 12% reported earning over $90,000. Collectively, 12% of mothers had less than 12 years of education, 63% of mothers were high school graduates and/or had more than 12 years of education, and 25% were college graduates. Fourteen percent of fathers were reported to have less than 12 years of education, 61% were high school graduates and/or had more than 12 years of education, and 25% were college graduates. Fifty-nine percent of mothers and 89% of fathers were employed.
Chi-square tests were computed on selected sibling and family variables. There were no significant gender differences for sibling participants, [chi square] (3, N = 71) = 6.24, p [is greater than] 05. Forty-five percent of the siblings were boys and 55% were girls. Likewise, chi-square analysis for sibling age relationship was insignificant, [chi square] (3, N= 71) = 4.74, p [is greater than] .03. Forty-eight percent of the siblings were older than the target child and 49% were younger (3% were same-aged twins). Chi-square analysis of gender difference for target participants was nonsignificant, [chi square] (3, N = 67) = 5.61, p [is greater than] .05. Sixty-six percent of the target children were boys, and 34% of the target children were girls. For marital status, a significant chi-square was obtained, [chi square] (3, N = 67) = 7.78, p [is greater than] .01. Eighty-five percent of the sample indicated that they were married.
Sibling adjustment. A two-way MANOVA (LD vs. NLD) x (BP vs. NBP) on parent CBCL scores on sibling behavior indicated statistically significant overall effects for the LD factor, Wilks' lambda = .78, F(1, 64) = 4.43; p [is less than] .001, and for the BP factor, Wilks' lambda = .82, F(1, 64) = 3.54; p [is less than] .01. A significant main effect also emerged for the BP factor for internalizing behavior, F(1, 67) = 10.37; p [is less than] .001. The results indicated that siblings of children with LD scored higher on externalizing behaviors than siblings of children without LD (p [is less than] .05). Siblings of children with BP scored higher on both internalizing and externalizing behaviors than siblings of children without BP (p [is less than] .05).
Siblings' self-reports of their behavior on the CBCL were analyzed using a two-way MANOVA (LD vs. NLD) x (BP vs. NBP). A significant overall main effect emerged for the LD factor, Wilks' lambda = .71, F(7, 61) = 3.52; p [is less than] .001. No other significant multivariate effects were obtained. A 2 (LD vs. NLD) x 2 (BP vs. NBP) ANOVA indicated a significant main effect for externalizing behavior for the LD factor, F(1, 67) = 12.28; p [is less than] .0001. No significant main effect was found for siblings of children on the BP factor. Interaction effects were also insignificant. The results suggest that siblings of children with LD self-reported higher externalizing behavior scores than siblings of children without LD (p [is less than] .05). The correlation between overall T-scores of the CBCL parent report and the CBCL youth self-report was moderate, r = .37; p [is less than] .001.
Sibling relationship and impact. A two-way (LD vs. NLD) x (BP vs. NBP) ANOVA of the means and standard deviations on the subscales of the Sibling Relationship Questionnaire (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985) and the Sibling Impact Questionnaire (Eisenberg et al., 1998) revealed significant main effects for the LD factor on the SRQ subscale of Conflict, F(1, 62) = 4.93; p [is less than] .03, and for the BP factor on the SRQ subscale of Importance/Satisfaction, F(1, 62) = 5.16; p [is less than] .03. No other significant effects emerged. The results suggested that siblings of children with LD scored higher on the Conflict subscale than siblings of children without LD (p [is less than] .05). Siblings of children with BP scored lower on the subscale of Importance/Satisfaction on the SRQ than siblings of children without BP as shown by Tukey's HSD test (p [is less than] .05).
For sibling impact, a two-way (LD vs. NLD) x (BP vs. NBP) ANOVA showed a main effect for the BP factor on the Family Impact subscale of the SIQ, F(1, 67) = 4.00; p [is less than] .05, and an interaction for LD and BP on the Social Impact subscale of the SIQ, F(1, 67) = 5.98; p [is less than] .05. The results indicated that siblings of children with BP scored higher on the Family and Social Impact subscales of the SIQ than siblings of children without BP (p [is less than] .05). No other significant effects emerged.
Perceived impact by parents. A two-way (LD vs. NLD) x (BP vs. NBP) ANOVA indicated a significant main effect for the BP factor, F(1, 63) = 33.70; p [is less than] .0001. Parents of children with BP reported a higher score of perceived burden than parents of children without BP (p [is less than] .05). This sense of burden was reflected in other areas as well. As shown in Table 6, a 2 (LD vs. no LD) x 2 (BP vs. no BP) ANOVA revealed a main effect for the BP factor, F(1, 63) = 6.28; p [is less than] .01, for mothers' health. Mothers of children with BP reported that they experienced more health problems than mothers of children without BP. For marital satisfaction, a 2 x 2 ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for BP, F(1, 56) = 11.01; p [is less than] .002. Tukey's HSD showed that parents of children with BP reported that they were less satisfied in their marriage than parents of children without BP. No other significant effects emerged.
Table 6 Percentages, Means, Standard Deviations, and Statistical Tests of Difference for Parental Health and Marital Satisfaction
NLD LD- BP- LD NBP ONLY ONLY W/BP F (N=19) (N=18) (N=11) (N=19) Test Maternal Health Excellent 74% 67% 55% 36% Good 26% 33% 36% 53% Fair 0% 0% 9% 11% Paternal Health Excellent 63% 56% 44% 47% Good 26% 38% 45% 40% Fair 11% 6% 11% 13% Maternal Health (Means, STD) 1.30 1.30 1.60 1.70 6.28(*) (0.5) (0.5) (0.7) (0.7) Marital Happiness (LOCKWAL) (Means, STD) 4.40 4.70 3.30 2.80 11.01(**) (1.4) (1.4) (2.4) (2.0)
(***) p [is less than] .01, (**) p [is less than] .001.
The purpose of this investigation was to compare families of children with LD and NLD on sibling psychological adjustment and self-concept, as well as siblings' perception of the quality of their relationship with their brother or sister. In addition, parents of children with LD and NLD were assessed on their perception of stress and burden. The results indicated that (a) the influence of the child with LD was confounded by whether or not that child also had behavior problems, and (b) a negative effect of a child with LD on the family emerged only if the child with LD also had behavior problems.
The present study demonstrates that in families of children with LD, parents' reports of sibling behavior differed from parents' reports of sibling behavior in typical, or control families. Scores on the CBCL showed that for both internalizing and externalizing behavior, group means for siblings of children with LD were significantly higher than the group means for the siblings in typical families. However, what is critical to note is that on the parent and self-reports of sibling behavior, all group means were in the normal range for internalizing or externalizing behavior. That is, although there was an effect on sibling behavior, the impact was not potent enough to render a clinical diagnosis of sibling maladjustment.
Taken together, behavioral and psychological adjustment and self-concept of the siblings in this study were within the normal range as reported by the parents and siblings themselves. As in typical families, these siblings maintained that they had their own lives and their own friends, and were persuaded by their parents and others to foster their own interests. For the families of children with LD, the siblings pointed out that they were given many opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and were encouraged by their parents to do well in their studies. These siblings indicated that they were not pressured to earn good grades as a consequence of having a sibling who experienced academic difficulty and failure.
Scores on the subscale of warmth in the Sibling Relationship Questionnaire indicated that siblings held strong feelings of love and affection for one another and that they thought very highly of their brothers and sisters. These findings were not significantly different from the reports made by siblings of typical children. In addition, there were no differences across groups in terms of reciprocal feelings of admiration and respect. Other positive outcomes were brought out in the subscale of positive impact from the Sibling Impact Questionnaire. Scores reflected the siblings' recognition of their own maturity, their tolerance for individuals with differences, and their patience in dealing with others. Some siblings of children with LD indicated that because of their brothers' or sisters' intellectual limitations, they often had to help them with schoolwork or repeat things over and over to ensure understanding. As one 14-year-old participant said about his 18-year-old brother with LD and BP: "He don't want to work. Sometimes you have to do things for him and I have to be real calm."
In sibling relationships, the amount of interaction and caregiving that was shared was related to the extent to which brothers and sisters cared about each other. The findings suggest that the degree of caring, measured by the importance and satisfaction of the relationship perceived by siblings, was also dependent upon whether or not the child with LD had behavior problems. As predicted, siblings of children with LD reported that they were close to their brothers and sisters and that there were mutual feelings of warmth and closeness in their relationships. No differences were found between siblings of children with LD-only and siblings of children with no LD and no BP with respect to the importance they placed on their relationship. They reported that they spent a great deal of time together and shared common interests.
In the Sibling Impact Questionnaire, participants were asked to elaborate on the way they spent time with their brothers and sisters. Siblings were then asked about the amount of time they spent taking care of their brothers or sisters. Some reported that they assisted their brother or sister with LD with schoolwork or academic tasks, but that the amount or type of help they provided was not overwhelming or burdensome. Conversely, siblings of children with both LD and BP, and siblings of children with BP-only, reported that they were less satisfied with the way things were between themselves and their brothers or sisters. While they stated that their brother or sister was an important person in their lives, they reported a lower mean score on the importance/satisfaction subscale than the other groups of siblings. What concerned these siblings most about their brothers or sisters with behavior problems was the difficulty they experienced in interacting with others and potential difficulties they might have getting along in the future. When asked to elaborate on her thoughts about the future, one 10-year-old girl said: "I worry about my brother because he fights all the time. He fights with everybody. In the neighborhood he is always getting into trouble with other kids. He fights at school too."
In another family, a 15-year-old girl talked about the behavior of her sister, age 12, with LD and BP: "She hardly gets along with anyone at all. Now she picks fights with boys."
During an interview, a 15-year-old girl shared her feelings about her brother with BP-only, age 14: "He just doesn't get along with others the way I do. I just want him to be happy."
Clearly, the comments of these siblings reflect the confound of the diagnosis of LD with the presence of BP. The siblings of children with BP in this study expressed strong feelings of caring for their brothers or sisters, but they also indicated concern about how their siblings' social behavior incited negative reactions from them and others. They questioned whether or not their brothers or sisters were capable of getting along with others in the future. These siblings shared that they were embarrassed by the behavior of their brother or sister with BP and that, compared to other children their age, they were bothered more by their siblings.
The present findings indicated that having a brother or sister with LD did not produce significant evidence of differential treatment by parents or sibling rivalry. The analyses yielded no differences between siblings of children with LD and siblings of children without LD with respect to their perception of parental preferential treatment. Based on their SRQ responses, they perceived equal treatment and comparable attention from their parents relative to their brothers and sisters. Findings from this study stand in contrast to some of the literature suggesting that children with LD require extra care and attention compared to their nondisabled siblings, thus engendering feelings of resentment among siblings over differential treatment. This study revealed that siblings felt that their needs (e.g., time with parents, money for things they want or need) were met just as often as the needs of their sibling with LD. When asked, on the SIQ, if they got to do as many fun things (sports, time with friends, extracurricular activities) as most kids their age, participants reported that they spent as much time, if not more, in extracurricular activities compared to other kids their age. These siblings also said that, compared to other children their age, they did not have more chores to do around the house. Because children with LD do not require the daily physical care needed by children with more severe disabilities, it is not surprising that the siblings in this study were not burdened by household chores and care demands.
Compared to the other families, parents of children with BP indicated that they felt more stressed trying to meet the needs of their child as well as maintaining other family and personal responsibilities. These findings are consistent with the literature suggesting that some parents of children with disabilities experience stress and emotional strains as a consequence of the care demands they face (Daniels-Morhing & Lambie, 1993; Dyson, 1993; Waggoner & Wilgosh, 1990). Compared to parents of children with no BP, this group indicated that they felt strained in their interactions with their children and that they often felt guilty about the communication between themselves and their child with BP. As the results on the PBS revealed, these families were very concerned about how their children would get along in the future, indicating that they would like to see an improvement in the quality of their relationship with their child with BP.
This study examined the sibling relationships in families of children with and without learning disabilities along the dimensions of: (a) sibling behavior, (b) sibling self-concept, (c) perceived impact by the sibling, and (d) perceived impact by the parents. Overall, sibling relationships in families of children with LD-only were found to be akin to sibling relationships in typical families. No significant differences were found between LD and NLD families in terms of sibling behavior, sibling self-concept, and perceived sibling impact. In these families, the results indicated that they experienced both the positive and negative dynamics found in all sibling relationships. However, parent scores on the Perceived Burden Scale produced significant differences across the groups of BP versus NBP, indicating the stress and burden related to raising a child with behavior problems.
The data collected in this study for behavior problems were not intended to be used for diagnostic purposes, nor can we conclude that the families who reported high levels of stress on the Perceived Burden Scale are dysfunctional or chaotic. In addition, the results are not suggesting that there is a direction of causality between behavior problems and parent stress. Rather, the distinction between families of children with and without behavior problems in this study demonstrates that not all families of children with LD are alike and that they do not necessarily share the same patterns of dysfunction and discord that have been suggested in past research.
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The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their contributions to this manuscript. The authors would also like to thank the parents, students, and personnel from the Fontana Unified School District, Fontana, CA, and the Riverside Unified School District, Riverside, CA, for participating in this study. This research was supported in part by grant RO1HD21324 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded to Dr. Jan Blacher. This work was based on a dissertation entitled "Sibling Relationships in Families of Children with and without Learning Disabilities" by Leigh A. Lardieri, University of California, Riverside, December 1996. Correspondence should be directed to: Leigh A. Lardieri, University of Maine at Machias, 9 O'Brien Ave., Machias, ME 04654, firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEIGH A. LARDIERI, Ph.D., is assistant professor, University of Maine at Machias.
JAN BLACHER, Ph.D., is professor, University of California, Riverside.
H. LEE SWANSON, Ph.D., is professor, University of California, Riverside.
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|Author:||Swanson, H. Lee|
|Publication:||Learning Disability Quarterly|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2000|
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