Happy Sibling Day!

Friday, April 10 is National Siblings Day, a day for the 80 to 90 percent of Americans who have siblings to celebrate their brothers and sisters. Celebrating Siblings Day can be as easy as sending a card, sharing a meal or doing a favor for a sibling.

“There is no relationship like the ones we have with our siblings,” said Montclair State University Family and Child Studies professor, Dr. Jonathan Caspi. A leading expert on sibling relationship dynamics, Caspi is the author of Sibling Aggression Treatment andSibling Development: Implications for Mental Health Practitioners. He has identified five reasons to celebrate Siblings Day:

  1. Siblings may have a greater influence on who we are or who we become than our parents and peers do, according to a growing body of research. Sibling relationships are intense relationships involving support, love, competition and conflict. Like it or not, so much of the way we handle relationships, closeness, competition, give support, argue, resolve conflicts and play we learned from our interactions with our siblings.
  2. Recent research is showing how important sibling support is for bolstering resilience and coping with difficult life experiences.
  3. Sibling relationships are the longest-lasting relationships most people have – and more people have siblings than they have children or spouses.
  4. Only with a sibling can you authentically commiserate about mom and dad and the crazy things families do!
  5. Siblings are who we confide in. They know our deepest secrets and share in family experiences – both the good and the bad. Witnesses to our most embarrassing and proud moments, they are the keepers of shared memories and personal histories.

Created by Claudia Evart, the Siblings Day Foundation established a National Siblings Day, celebrated on April 10, the birthday of Evart’s late sister, Lisette. Since 1998, 85 governors – including former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman – have signed Siblings Day proclamations in 49 states.

For the roughly 20 per cent of Americans who are only children or “singletons,” there is National Only Child Day, which is celebrated onApril 12.

“The advantage of being a singleton is that there is no competition for parental resources,” said Caspi. “This is often an explanation for reported high achievement of only children, who tend to be high achievers like first-borns.”

The downside? “The lack of sibling support, which is so important in resilience and coping.”

Research shows that siblings with autism more different than similar

A study published in the journal Nature Medicine has reported that in families with two children both diagnosed with autism, they are genetically similar only 30% of the time.  Using whole-genome mapping techniques, siblings pairs were different 70% of the time — suggesting they had different “types” of autism.  You can read about it in this New York Times article      and/or in this TIME piece:  http://time.com/3683475/autism-siblings-study/

This has implications for treatment of course (e.g., using genome mapping with older siblings to diagnose and treat youngers), but also raises some interesting questions.

First, it calls into question the accuracy and utility of the autism diagnosis.  The study’s authors argued that the difference was due to genetic diversity of the disorder.  Perhaps it is that the diagnosis is not refined enough.  It is too broad and accounts for too great a diversity of behaviors.

Second, there has long been a body of research on typically-developing siblings that shows they are more different than similar.  These have focused on psychological and personality differences (not genetics), so a bit comparing apples and oranges, BUT the fact that siblings are more different than similar is no surprise to sibling researchers.

The question then becomes whether or not the same processes that support differences the same in all siblings — pairs diagnosed with autism and pairs who are typically developing.