Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1056–1067 | Cite as

Parentification of Adult Siblings of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Theodore S. Tomeny
  • Tammy D. Barry
  • Elizabeth C. Fair
  • Robyn Riley
Original Paper


Many typically-developing (TD) siblings provide care for their siblings with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), both as children and as adults. Research on parentification (i.e., when children assume responsibilities typically reserved for adults) has been mixed, with some studies supporting positive outcomes for TD siblings and others indicating negative outcomes. Some of these discrepancies may be due to inconsistencies in differentiating types of parentification. The current study examined how different types of parentification during childhood (retrospectively-reported) related to distress outcomes and attitudes about sibling relationships among 41 TD adult siblings of individuals with ASD. Results indicated that parent-focused parentification was positively related with anxiety and stress among TD siblings. Sibling-focused parentification was positively related to stress but was also related to more positive sibling relationship attitudes. Accounting for demographic variables and the other form of parentification, parent-focused parentification was a unique predictor of distress, whereas sibling-focused parentification was a unique predictor of positive sibling relationship attitudes. Although parentification is often viewed negatively, sibling-focused parentification and perceived benefits of parentification may predict positive outcomes. Results suggest that parentification may prove important in understanding the complex nature of sibling relationships. Specifically, strengthening the sibling bond and reducing parent-focused parentification during childhood may curtail sibling relationship problems and general distress in TD siblings later in life.


Autism spectrum disorder Caregivers Parentification Relationship quality Adult siblings 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1954 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Washington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  3. 3.The University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA

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