Psychosocial Functioning in Siblings of Children With Rare Disorders Compared to Controls

Siblings of children with chronic disorders are at increased risk of psychosocial problems.

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Abstract

The risk may be exacerbated when the chronic disorder is rare and limited medical knowledge is available, due to more uncertainty and feelings of isolation. We examined mental health, parent-child communication, child-parent relationship quality, and social support among 100 children aged 8 to 16 years (M age 11.5 years, SD = 2.2; 50.0% boys, 50.0% girls). Fifty-six were siblings of children with rare disorders, and 44 were controls. The siblings of children with rare disorders (herein, siblings) were recruited from a resource centre for rare disorders and comprised siblings of children with a range of rare disorders including neuromuscular disorders and rare chromosomal disorders with intellectual disability. Controls were recruited from schools. Self-reported child mental health was significantly poorer for siblings compared to controls (effect size difference d = 0.75). Parent-reported child mental health was not significantly different between the groups (d = -0.06 to 0.16). Most child-parent relationships (anxiety/avoidance; mothers/fathers) were significantly poorer for siblings compared to controls (d = 0.47 to 0.91). There was no difference between groups in anxious relation with mother. Parent-child communication was significantly poorer for siblings compared to controls (d = -0.87 to -0.75). Social support was significantly poorer for siblings compared to controls (d = 0.61). We conclude that siblings of children with rare disorders display more psychosocial problems than controls. Interventions are indicated to prevent further maladjustment for siblings.

Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2021,94 (4), 537–544, PMID: 34970091

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Published Feb. 7, 2022 6:00 AM