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Open Access Publications from the University of California

In Their Own Words: Using Siblings’ Meanings about Daily Family Interaction to Understand the Influence of a Child with a Developmental Disability on the Sibling Experience

  • Author(s): Sendowski, Tahl DeBoer
  • Advisor(s): Holloway, Susan
  • et al.

This study examined daily experiences of stress and coping among adolescent siblings of children with developmental disabilities. Early studies of this population have assumed that living with a disabled sibling is inherently stressful due to changes in the availability and allocation of familial resources. While recent work suggests that only a minority of nondisabled youth experience considerable stress related to family interactions involving a disabled sibling, few studies offer an understanding of how nondisabled siblings make meaning of their experiences and their attempts to cope with them. As such, we have a poor understanding of why some nondisabled siblings struggle while others do not. To address this gap in the literature, I drew on models of stress and coping to conduct a qualitative exploration of the cognitive appraisals used by nondisabled siblings during stressful family interactions. I conducted in-depth individual interviews with 11 nondisabled siblings (aged 10 to 17 years old) to elicit their descriptions of daily family interactions. The interviews were composed of audio-recorded dinner conversations and emotion maps as well as open-ended questions to elicit candid and detailed accounts of family life.

Analyses of participants’ appraisal processes addressed the following questions: which aspects of daily family interactions they experienced as stressful and why they were appraised as stressful, how the participants attempted to manage these stressful interactions and why they chose particular coping behaviors and resources, and how their coordination of these appraisals were associated with their subsequent distress. The findings present three important clinical and research implications, including the importance of considering nondisabled siblings’ appraisals of stressful family interactions in clinical practice and research, the need to expand nondisabled siblings’ coping behaviors and resources for managing daily family-related stress, and the role of parents in nondisabled siblings’ experiences of stress.

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