Experiences of, and attitudes, towards growing up and adulthood: a comparative study of young people with and without mild intellectual disabilities

Salt, Emily Anne (2019) Experiences of, and attitudes, towards growing up and adulthood: a comparative study of young people with and without mild intellectual disabilities. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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To some extent, ‘adulthood’ and ‘adult identity’ can be thought of as socially constructed phenomena, capable of evolving in response to societal consensus. For many typically developing young adults, the period that encompasses the transition to adulthood is thought to be elongating. In many ways, the traditional pathways to adulthood have eroded, leaving many young people feeling ambivalent about the process of growing up. Due to a combination of social and economic pressures and ideological shifts, young people are becoming increasingly likely to delay certain social role transitions, most notably marriage and parenthood, until their mid to late twenties and early thirties. Subjective adult identity, or feeling like an adult, is also thought to be taking longer to develop.
For young adults with mild intellectual disabilities and their families, however, the transition to adulthood stands to be even more complicated. Developmental delay and difficulties adapting to change can have the potential to make service transitions harder to adjust to. These experiences might also be exacerbated by the fact that options for purposeful daytime activity can be limited for members of this population. Moreover, pervasive narratives of risk and vulnerability necessarily compete with a number of the normative outcomes of transition, most notably the development of self-determination and independence. Concerns about safety and security may therefore prevent parents and service providers from providing opportunities for positive risk-taking and experimentation. This is even though such experiences can make vital contributions to personal development and maturation.
Through strategies such as Keys to Life and More Choice, More Chances, the Scottish Government has committed itself to help all young people to achieve positive transition outcomes. However, to date, there has been very little research undertaken to find out how young people with and without mild intellectual disabilities think and feel about the transition to adulthood, including their attitudes towards self-determination, independence, and autonomy. This thesis aimed to address this gap in the research by investigating young Scots’ and their parents’ experiences of, and attitudes towards growing up and adulthood.
Using a mixed-methods approach, including semi-structured interviews, interactive flashcard activities, a vignette, and a questionnaire, data from over 100 participants have been collected and analysed. Our findings suggest that, despite high variation in the levels of autonomy experienced by the participants, young people with and without mild intellectual disabilities share complicated feelings towards the prospect of increased independence. Both groups, for example, hoped to work towards independence, albeit over different time frames, yet also voiced a degree of reluctance to adopt additional responsibility at home. The desire for an ‘easy life’, for example, appeared to be present in both groups, though genuine concerns about coping without support were more prevalent in the group with mild intellectual disabilities. Similarly, while attitudes towards parental support and interference were mostly positive in both groups, the majority of participants suggested that they would resist interference in personal, or private domains. However, there was some evidence to suggest that the young people with intellectual disabilities perceived the balance of power within their own families as more skewed towards their parents.
With regards to the nature of adulthood and adult identity, our findings corroborate previous claims that individuals conceptualise adulthood in ways that are relevant and achievable to themselves. We found tentative evidence, for example, that the young adults with intellectual disabilities may prioritise interpersonal dimensions of ‘responsibility’ - such as looking after other people and fulfilling one’s familial obligations - as being the most salient criteria for adulthood. In contrast, the typically developing participants appeared to focus on more individualistic expressions of responsibility, such as self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, and independent decision-making.
Though speculative, our findings demonstrate that individuals with intellectual disabilities can have unique perspectives on universal phenomena that are not only interesting in their own right but may also have consequences for the broader literature. The implications of these findings for policy and practice are also outlined, as well as opportunities for future research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Intellectual disabilities, transition, adolescence, adulthood.
Subjects: R Medicine > RZ Other systems of medicine
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Supervisor's Name: Jahoda, Professor Andrew and Melville, Professor Craig
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: E.A. Salt
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-41001
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2019 10:29
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2020 21:27
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.41001
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/41001

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