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Siblings of Kids With Autism May Be Prone to Hyperactivity

But it shouldn't affect mental health overall, study finds

MONDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- Older brothers and sisters of preschool children with autism may be at increased risk of developing hyperactivity, a new study finds.

It also found that mothers of young autistic children suffer more depression and stress than mothers without an autistic child.

The study included 20 families with a preschooler (ages 2 to 5) diagnosed with autism and a typically developing older sibling (ages 6 to 10). It also included a control group of 23 families that did not have an autistic child.

"Contrary to what has been found by many researchers, we found that older siblings [of children with autism] were pretty well-adjusted, with no significant differences in parent-reported or teacher-reported social skills. These are all typically developing kids," Laura Lee McIntyre, director of the school psychology program at the University of Oregon, said in a news release.

But teachers did report that older siblings of children with autism had slightly more fidgeting, movement and attention problems than older siblings in the control group.

"Children with siblings with autism may be experiencing some sub-clinical symptoms of hyperactivity or attention problems," McIntyre said. "Parents didn't report seeing such things at home. Teachers see these children in a more structured environment. Siblings of children with autism may be at heightened risk for developing problems, especially over time."

These children should be monitored and offered appropriate support.

"Our findings are rather positive overall, but these kids should be on our radar screens," McIntyre said. "These kids may start school OK, at least those from healthy families, but they may demonstrate difficulties over time. However, it has been shown that around 30 percent of siblings of autistic children have some associated difficulties in behavior, learning or development."

The findings that mothers of autistic children experience higher rates of stress and depression was no surprise because it's been well- documented, McIntyre said.

The study appears in the March issue of the journal Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities.

More information

The Autism Society of America has more about sibling issues.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Oregon, news release, March 8, 2010

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