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  • ATHABASCA UNIVERSITY

    UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY

    UNIVERSITY OF LETHBRIDGE

    SUPPORTING SIBLINGS OF CHILDREN WITH AUTISM

    BY

    CAROLINE BUZANKO

    A Final Project submitted to the

    Campus Alberta Applied Psychology: Counselling Initiative

    in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

    MASTERS OF COUNSELLING

    Alberta

    September 2007

  • ii

    DEDICATION

    This project is dedicated to all the amazing siblings I have had the opportunity to meet

    over the years.

  • iii

    CAMPUS ALBERTA APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY: COUNSELLING INITIATIVE

    SUPERVISOR SIGNATURE PAGE

    Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research

    The undersigned certifies that she has read and recommends to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research for acceptance, a final project entitled SUPPORTING SIBLINGS OF CHILDREN WITH AUTISM submitted by CAROLINE BUZANKO in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Counselling.

  • iv

    CAMPUS ALBERTA APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY: COUNSELLING INITIATIVE

    SECOND READER SIGNATURE PAGE

    Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research

    The undersigned certifies that she or he has read and recommends to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research for acceptance, a final project entitled SUPPORTING SIBLINGS OF CHILDREN WITH AUTISM submitted by CAROLINE BUZANKO in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Counselling.

  • v

    ABSTRACT

    This project addresses the needs faced by siblings of children diagnosed with Autistic

    Disorder by providing an overview of the literature on sibling needs and the benefits of

    sibling support groups, and a manual to assist professionals to implement their own

    sibling support groups for this population. Once developed, the manual was implemented

    as a pilot sibling support group and the parents of the sibling participants evaluated the

    groups effect. The parent responses indicated that the sibling support group was

    beneficial for their children as it helped them to better understand autism, cope

    effectively with difficult situations, facilitated communication within the family,

    enhanced relationships between siblings, and offered peer support.

  • vi

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    Thank you to Dr. Shelly Russell-Mayhew who provided me with valuable input and

    guidance from the beginning of this journey. I would also like to thank individuals from

    Society For Treatment of Autism, including Wayne Sklarski who believed in the project

    and allowed me to implement the group at the agency; Dr. Kim Ward who supported me

    in the early stages of the project; and Glenda Hendriks, who helped make the group a

    success. And of course, thank you to the siblings and parents who participated in the

    project. Without them this project would not exist. Finally, I must thank Andrew Stewart

    whose patience and support helped me see the completion of this project.

  • vii

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    Page

    Chapter I

    1.1 Introduction ................................................................................................ 1

    1.2 Project Rationale ........................................................................................ 1

    1.3 Project Overview ........................................................................................ 2

    1.4 Summary .................................................................................................... 3

    Chapter II

    2.1. Definition of Terms ................................................................................... 4

    2.2. Literature Review ...................................................................................... 4

    2.2a Autism: An Overview .............................................................. 4

    2.2b The Impact of Having a Sibling with Autism ........................... 7

    2.2c Services for Siblings of Children with Autism........................... 13

    2.2d The Need for Services: Sibling Support Groups ...................... 16

    Chapter III

    3.1 Methodology .............................................................................................. 22

    3.1a The Development of a Sibling Support Group Manual ............. 22

    3.1b Piloting the Sibling Support Group.......................................... 24

    3.1c Evaluating the Pilot Sibling Support Group ............................. 26

    3.2 Considerations from the Literature in the Development of the Group Manual 29

    3.2a Group Development for Children............................................. 29

    3.2b Developmental Considerations ............................................... 30

    3.3 Manual Description .................................................................................... 32

  • viii

    3.4 Summary .................................................................................................... 34

    Chapter IV

    4.1 Supporting Siblings of Children with Autism............................................... 35

    Chapter V

    5.1 Results ........................................................................................................ 98

    5.1a Positive Aspects of the Group ................................................. 98

    5.1b Benefits of the Group .............................................................. 100

    5.1c Areas of Improvement ............................................................. 107

    5.1d Future Considerations ............................................................ 108

    5.1e Summary ................................................................................ 110

    5.2 Discussion .................................................................................................. 110

    5.2a Limitations .............................................................................. 113

    5.2b Future Research and Considerations...................................... 115

    5.2b Implications............................................................................ 116

    5.2b Summary ................................................................................ 116

    References ....................................................................................................... 117

    Appendices

    Appendix A:...................................................................................................... 127

    Appendix B: SSHRC Notice of Award .............................................................. 129

    Appendix C: Letter of Invitation ....................................................................... 130

    Appendix D: Consent for Sibling Support Group Participation ......................... 132

    Appendix E: Consent for Research Participation ............................................... 133

    Appendix F: Interview Guide ........................................................................... 134

  • ix

    LIST OF TABLES

    Table 1: Session-by-Session Curriculum 33

  • 1

    CHAPTER I

    Supporting Siblings of Children with Autism:

    An Introduction

    Although parent-child relationships are extremely important, sibling relationships may be

    even more significant (Dodd, 2004). Siblings usually spend more time with each other than they do

    with parents (Lobato, 1990), and the attachment between them is often the longest most individuals

    have (Frank, 1996; McHale & Gamble, 1989; Richman, 2001). Sibling relationships represent first

    peer relationships (Lobato), are important in the development of social skills in early childhood

    (Harris, 1994; Richman), and are associated with lower levels of loneliness and higher sense of

    worth (Kaminsky & Dewey, 2001; Verté, Roeyers, & Buysse, 2003).

    The importance of sibling relationships is significant when considering siblings of children

    with a disability. Non-disabled siblings not only face usual sibling issues such as sibling rivalry, but

    also have unique concerns and challenges that are directly related to having a sibling with a

    disability, such as extra parental attention devoted to the sibling with a disability, embarrassment by

    the siblings behaviour, or struggling with complex and confusing feelings (Eisenberg, Baker, &

    Blacher, 1998; Meyer & Vadasy, 1994; Powell & Gallagher, 1993). These experiences may alter the

    daily lives of non-disabled siblings in significant ways, and may have consequences for their well-

    being and development (Crocker, 1981; Grossman, 1972). There is a need to develop programs to

    he

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