Having Older Siblings May Change Symptoms of Autism

By Amanda Ng ’17

Fig. 1: Studies show that children with Autism may benefit socially from having an older sibling.

Children of all ages, regardless of their development, are affected by their relationships with their siblings. This is also true of children with autism, a life-long disorder that causes social deficits. Although autism can cause children to have trouble interacting in social settings, some previous research has suggested that having siblings can increase their social communication skills, causing them to act more like typically developing children than children with autism who do not have siblings. However at the same time, some studies have produced results that show there is no difference, leading to conflicting views among researchers.

Researchers at Ariel University in Israel studied children who were evaluated at The Autism Center between 2002-2012. Their final sample included 163 children with autism, 67 without siblings, and 96 with at least one older sibling. The researchers confirmed the participants’ diagnosis by using the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised, a parent-report questionnaire, and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scales, a structured interview used for assessing social and communicative functioning in individuals with autism. The team then administered the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales to assess social and everyday functioning.  

The data from the study was analyzed using a linear regression. After data analysis, the researchers concluded that interacting with older siblings seems to be associated with increased social affect (r^2 = .334, p < .001) and communication (r^2 = .317, p < .001) in children with autism. This correlation confirms the importance of peer socialization in increasing social communication and affect in children with autism. This information can be used to create better strategies for families that hope to increase their child’s sociability. Future research should focus on the effect having a younger sibling can have on a child with autism and whether the age gap between siblings can increase the magnitude of this effect.


  1. E. Ben-Itzchak, G. Zukerman, D.A. Zachor. Having Older Siblings is Associated with Less Severe Social Communication Symptoms in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44, 613-620 (2016). Doi: 10.1007/s10802-016-0133-0.
  2. Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/p-1022994/?no_redirect

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