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Study Finds Siblings of Those with Developmental Disabilities Become Nicer People

Growing up in a home with someone who has a developmental disability can have a positive impact on family life, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Tel Aviv examined the relationship between siblings with typical development and those who had a brother or sister with some form of developmental disability. They discovered that kids who have a sibling with a disability show more empathy, are more attentive to the needs of others, and have a heightened sense of responsibility.

In a first-of-its-kind research approach, Prof. Anat Zaidman-Zait, of the Department of School Counseling and her team assessed the drawings of sixty children between the ages of eight and thirteen. The children were asked to draw themselves with their siblings and family members. Art therapists would then score the artwork using several criteria, such as how far apart the people in the drawings were from each other, which could indicate emotional conflict. As a control, the evaluators did not know which drawings came from which family.

Zaidman-Zait says the analysis of children’s drawings was vital to the study as it helps researchers peer into the inner worlds of children which is better expressed through art and not self-reporting. She says the study was very revealing, “We found that children with siblings with intellectual disabilities scored higher on empathy, teaching, and closeness and scored lower in conflict and rivalry than those with typically developing siblings.”

The paper, titled “The quality of the relationship between typically developing children and their siblings with and without intellectual disability: Insights from children’s drawings,” was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Research in
Developmental Disabilities. To learn more go to https://english.m.tau.ac.il/news/sibling_study