The experience of having a sibling with an autistic spectrum disorder.
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Autistic Spectrum Disorders have shown to be some of the most disruptive and bizarre childhood developmental disorders, affecting all relationships within the family (Glass, 2001). The sibling relationship is possibly one of the most important relationships in childhood development, affecting cognitive and emotional adjustment (Dunn, 2000; Sanders, 2004). While the effects on parents of having a child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder are well documented, there is very little qualitative research that explores the experience from the sibling‟s perspective. Using Family Systems Theory as a framework for understanding, the question asked in this study was: “What is the experience of having a sibling with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder?” The study made use of a phenomenological approach, which was useful in exploring the „lived world‟ of the participant. Making use of semi structured interviews, a focus group and various projective techniques and one participatory technique, three participants shared their thoughts, feelings and experiences of having a younger sibling with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Interpretive analysis guided by the Hermeneutic circle was used to analyze the data. The results showed a complex and protective relationship that also evoked feelings of frustration and embarrassment in the participants. While the relationship was difficult, there was no indication that the participants faced any emotional or adjustment difficulties. Furthermore, the effective coping mechanisms that were utilized by the participants were highlighted. The study also aimed to provide recommendations for care-givers and professionals, as well as future research in this area.