Date of Award

Winter 12-8-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mary Ann Romski

Second Advisor

Rose A. Sevcik

Third Advisor

Chris Henrich

Fourth Advisor

Frank Floyd


Sibling relationships in families of children with disabilities are generally positive despite difficulties that may result from the child’s disability. Many developmental disabilities have associated communication impairments that could affect how siblings interact with each other and the closeness between them. Research has rarely addressed the role of communication skills and how potential deficits in communication may impact the sibling relationship. The purpose of this study is to examine the characteristics of sibling communication interaction patterns when one sibling has a developmental disability and the unique role that communication skills play in the quality of the sibling relationship using both self-report and observational measures. Participants were 30 mixed and same-sex sibling dyads that included one typically developing sibling and their brother or sister with an identified developmental disability. Using parent report, children with disabilities were placed into three communication status groups according to their communication skills: emerging communicators, context-dependent communicators and independent communicators. Results indicated that when children with disabilities were independent communicators, they exhibited interactions with their siblings that were similar in terms of lexical complexity but that regardless of communication status, typically developing siblings dominated the interaction. All three communication groups differed significantly on measures of relative status/power with siblings of children who were independent communicators reporting highest levels of relative status/power. Additionally, receptive vocabulary was a significant predictor of relative status/power and proportion of intelligible utterances was a significant predictor of rivalry. Finally, although typical siblings acknowledged that their relationship would be different if their sibling with a disability had different communication skills, it did not lessen the importance of that sibling in their life. As a whole, these results represent a first step in understanding the unique role of communication skills in the sibling relationship for families of children with disabilities. It established that when children are grouped together according to their communication abilities, findings regarding relative status/power are different than what would be expected based on literature. Communication and language skills are important variables to add to the literature to further elucidate the sibling experience in families of children with disabilities.


Included in

Psychology Commons