Are We There Yet? A study of concepts and conflicts surrounding intellectual disability and adulthood

Author: Fiona Redgrove

Redgrove, Fiona, 2018 Are We There Yet? A study of concepts and conflicts surrounding intellectual disability and adulthood, Flinders University, School of Health Sciences

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Despite extensive research into the transition to adulthood for young people with intellectual disability, this life stage continues to offer challenges for these young people, their parents, and the staff working with those termed “young adults”. This thesis investigates the possibility that conceptualisations of adulthood differ in ways that contribute to tensions between young people, their parents, and disability support workers during this transitional phase.

The qualitative research presented here, using focus groups and semi-guided interviews, is framed by a theoretical model that offers four paradigms, or lenses, by which adulthood may be considered. Concept analysis was applied to the data. The data analysis highlights five themes where variance was found in perceptions of young people with intellectual disability as “adult”, or otherwise. These themes centred on the ideas that adults are independent and rational, that adults find acceptance in their community, and that adult life offers meaning. The final theme reflects on adulthood as either an actual or virtual observation.

This thesis highlights the difference between support workers within disability services who are guided by a prevailing ideology of human rights and empowerment, and parents who may continue to assume a paternalistic and protective relationship with their son or daughter with a disability. The research suggests that either perspective is potentially damaging to a young person with intellectual disability. The findings reflect the inadequacy of the term “adult”, and the lack of a term that better describes this developmental life stage of young people living with intellectual disability. They call for consideration to be offered to the contemporary sociological stage of “emerging adulthood” for those young people with intellectual disability who have left the dependency of childhood, but are yet to assume the enduring responsibilities of adulthood.

Keywords: Intellectual Disability, Adulthood, Transition, Parent-staff conflict, adult status

Subject: Disability and Rehabilitation Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: School of Health Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Paul Jewell