Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Allan Berman


The presence of childhood chronic illness or disability is generally perceived as an emotionally costly and stressful experience for the child and family. While earlier descriptive studies consistently suggested that chronic illness or disability may predispose siblings to poorer adjustment and psychopathology, more recent controlled studies have failed to demonstrate marked differences between siblings and comparable controls. To provide further clarification, this study explored the general psychological functioning, social competency, and self-esteem of siblings. Twenty families of children with cystic fibrosis, for a total of 34 siblings and 12 families of children with autism, for a total of 19 siblings, and 26 normal control families participated. Standardized questionnaires from mothers and siblings, as well as interviews with siblings about their experiences were collected. Comparisons between siblings of autistic children and their matched control group reveal no significant differences on emotional and behavioral problems, social competency, or self-esteem. Comparisons between CF siblings and their matched control group reveal greater emotional and behavioral problems, no differences in social competency, and variable degrees of self-esteem. Findings suggest that there is no one-to-one correspondence between chronic illness or disability and greater amounts of behavioral and emotional problems in siblings. To the extent that siblings are well-informed and involved in the care of the ill child in accord with age expectations, their sense of involvement in the family and mastery of illness related stresses may be enhanced. The results correspond well to previous findings that siblings depend largely upon their parents to help make sense of the illness, as well as to integrate it into everyday life. Mastery on the part of the mothers in coping with the illness was associated with higher levels of self-esteem in the siblings, particularly in the home environment. This suggests that siblings are positively influenced by their parents' efforts to cope with the illness.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.