Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Sisters-Family relationships, People with mental disabilities-Family relationships, Siblings, Sisters, Sisterhood, Siblings of people with disabilities, Intellectual disabilities


This qualitative study explored the nature of the relationships between young adult women and their sisters with intellectual disabilities. This study sought to contribute to the growing body of literature on siblings of people with intellectual disabilities by addressing the dearth of research on sisters in young adulthood, and their experience of the sibling relationship. The narratives of twelve young adult sisters of women with intellectual disabilities were gathered through open-ended interviews. Research questions explored such topics as the level of contact participants had with their sisters, how their relationships had changed in adulthood, and the most fulfilling and challenging aspects of these relationships. Findings suggest that the relationships between young adult sisters are significantly impacted when one sister has an intellectual disability. These relationships face barriers to connectedness and reciprocity, but are also, in many cases, marked by a unique type of closeness. Participants revealed that their relationships with their sisters had a profound impact on their lives, both emotionally and instrumentally. While most of the women in this study had not assumed primary responsibility for their sisters, many of them indicated that their current life choices are affected by potential future responsibilities. The finding that sisters of women with intellectual disabilities would benefit from both individual counseling and access to support groups has important implications for social work practice.




iii, 59 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2011. Includes bibliographical references (p. 52-54)