Background A number of methodological weaknesses have contributed to our relatively poor understanding of the impact on children of having a brother or sister with a disability. These include a focus on poor adjustment, using multidiagnostic groups, inadequate matching, and a failure to consider the perspectives of children and parents together.
Method This study compared the adjustment of 53 siblings of a child with Down syndrome with a comparison group of siblings of children who were developing typically. Children were matched on a case-by-case basis for gender, age and position in family. Families were matched for family size and father’s occupation. The age range of the target siblings was 7–14 years. Data were gathered from mothers, fathers and siblings.
Results There were no significant differences between the groups on adjustment measures. These included parent perceptions of externalizing and internalizing behaviours, parent perceptions of sibling competence, and sibling perceptions of their own competence and self-worth. Associations between measures of adjustment and child reports of their contribution to household functioning depended on sex rather than group membership. There was an association between parental reports of externalizing behaviour and sibling relationships with the brother/sister closest in age.
Conclusions Having a brother or sister with Down syndrome does not inevitably lead to poor adjustment. Examination of within-family processes would appear to be more useful in identifying children at risk than merely group membership.