Understanding the school outcomes for, and experiences of, siblings of children with autism

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Alexandra Gregory
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

A systematic literature review was conducted to explore the educational outcomes for, and experiences of, siblings of children on the autism spectrum (autism siblings). Whilst there is a growing body of research on the psychological outcomes for autism siblings, few studies have considered how this might influence the school context. Findings were linked to the Siblings Embedded Systems Framework; school factors, psychological internal challenges and resources, peers and other formal and informal social systems, and personal interpretation of events. Overall, school outcomes and experiences showed large variation, suggesting that some autism siblings are at increased risk of difficulties in the school context, but that autism siblings do not automatically experience challenges in school. Nevertheless, the review highlighted a number of methodological limitations of the evidence-base in this area, including the small body of literature, particularly in the UK, studies of low methodological rigour, such as those employing small sample sizes, and reliance on solely parent-reported outcomes. This limits the conclusions that can be drawn.

The empirical study extended the current literature to explore two school-related outcomes; sense of school belonging and academic self-concept. Using online questionnaires, autism siblings and siblings of typically developing children without autism (typical siblings) aged 11 to 16 years in secondary schools across the UK took part.

Data on sibling wellbeing were also triangulated via self-, parent/carer- and teacher reports. Relative to typical siblings, autism siblings self-reported significantly lower school belonging and academic self-concept, in addition to significantly lower self, parent- and teacher-reported wellbeing outcomes. Regression models established that sibling-reported internalising and externalising behaviours significantly predicted both school-related outcomes. Sibling group was also a significant predictor in all models, demonstrating that even once demographic variables and sibling wellbeing were controlled, robust sibling group differences were still present. Despite these findings, there was a greater variation in autism siblings’ school outcomes compared to typical siblings. Therefore, this study highlights the importance of taking an individualised and person-centred approach to understanding the varying needs of, and providing support to, siblings of children on the autism spectrum.

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The impact of same and separate classroom placements on the social adjustment of identical and non-identical same-sex twins at school entry

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Katy Goymour
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Educators, parents and researchers continue to deliberate whether twins should be educated in the same classroom or placed in different classrooms when they start school (Alexander 2012; Segal & Russel, 1992). The twin relationship is one of the most intimate of interpersonal bonds (DiLalla & Mullineaux, 2008; Woodward 1998), more so than other sibling‐relationships and is thus considered in the context of attachment theory (Tancredy & Fraley, 2006). Yet the nature of the twin bond serves as argument both for and against placing twins in the same classroom. At present, it appears that decisions regarding classroom placement are primarily based on viewpoints, rather than any evidence‐base. A systematic review of the literature exploring the impact of classroom placement on behavioural and academic outcomes in young twins has highlighted inconsistent findings. However, no research to date has considered the importance of the twin relationship and the focus of empirical studies has been on behavioural and academic outcomes. No study has yet explored the associations between classroom placement, the quality of the twin relationship and the development of their social competence at school. This empirical paper therefore examines the impact of classroom placement on twins’ social adjustment at school, taking into account the quality of their relationship prior to school entry. Results showed that there were no significant associations between these variables, although there was some evidence that the quality of twin relationship varied as a function of zygosity. However, conclusions were interpreted with significant caution due to the very small sample and lack of statistical power. Implications for future research, educational practitioners and parents are also considered.

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Academic self-concept and sense of school belonging of adolescent siblings of autistic children

Authors: Alexandra Gregory, Richard P. Hastings and Hanna Kovshoff
Published: 2020
Publication: Research in Developmental Disabilities

Background: Whilst there is a growing body of research on the psychological outcomes for siblings of autistic children (autism siblings), few studies have considered the school context.
Aims: To explore group differences on two school-related self-reported outcomes for autism siblings and siblings of non-autistic children: sense of school belonging, and academic self-concept. Data on self- and parent/carer-reported behavioural and emotional problems were also collected.
Methods and procedures: 65 autism siblings and a comparison group of 57 siblings of non-autistic children aged 11–16 years completed questionnaires measuring sense of school belonging, academic self concept, and behaviour problems. 73 parents in the autism sibling and 67 parents in the comparison sibling group completed the behaviour problems measure.
Outcomes and results: Autism siblings reported significantly lower school belonging and academic self-concept, and had significantly poorer self- and parent- reported behaviour problems. When controlling for demographic variables and internalising and externalizing behaviour, robust sibling group differences on academic variables remained.
Conclusions and implications: Autism siblings reported poorer school-related outcomes and increased behavioural difficulties relative to siblings of non-autistic children. There was wide variation in autism siblings’ outcomes, highlighting the importance of taking an individualised and contextualised approach to understanding the varying needs of autism siblings.

Gregory, A., Hastings, R. & Kovshoff, H. (2020) Academic self-concept and sense of school belonging of adolescent siblings of autistic children. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 96, [103519]. DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2019.103519

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Exploring the experiences of typically developing siblings who have a brother or sister with Autism Spectrum Condition

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Kirsty Underwood
Submitted: June 2016

Abstract

This thesis explores the experiences of typically developing siblings (TD-Sibs) who have grown up with a brother or sister with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). The first chapter presents a systematic review of the literature, using an Interactive Factors Framework (IFF) approach (a framework that is used to guide Educational Psychology practice), to consider TD-Sibs’ experiences from a holistic perspective. A total of 22 studies were identified from the systematic search process. The review highlights many inconsistencies in findings, and methodological limitations. Within the sampled research, the quantitative studies tended to focus on potential behavioural, social and emotional difficulties for TD-Sibs, however, there is currently insufficient, consistent evidence to conclude that TD-Sibs, as a group, will experience difficulties in these areas. Through eliciting sibling voice directly, qualitative studies revealed positive aspects for TDSibs, as well as, previously unconsidered challenges. The review identifies gaps in the research base and concludes with an IFF diagram to visually represent and synthesise the positive and challenging experiences from the 22 studies as a whole.

The empirical paper explores the views of young adult siblings, who have grown up with a brother or sister with ASC, to gain a greater understanding of their lived experience and how this may interact with their education. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six participants (aged 19 to 21), and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Five super-ordinate themes were identified: Striving to do well; Sense of responsibility; Self-Management; Voice and Acceptance. These exploratory findings identified some positive aspects of being a TD-Sib, however participants predominantly recounted a number of struggles and hidden challenges, which influenced some aspects of their educational experiences. Practical implications and avenues for future research are discussed.

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