Managing relational autonomy in interactions: People with intellectual disabilities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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This article is about interactions that occur when someone with intellectual disabilities is engaged in everyday activities with a personal assistant (PA) or a support worker. 


We examine the detail of nine hours of naturally occurring video-recorded interactions, to explore how "relational autonomy" is done in practice. Nine people with ID and seven staff took part in the research, which took place in England from 2016-17. 


We selected six extracts to illustrate different types of joint decision-making. Informed by inclusive research with a drama group of people with intellectual disabilities, we focus on the ways in which (a) future plans are discussed; (b) choices are offered during an activity; (c) people reflect on their decisions. 


The article concludes with discussion about the teaching and learning content of choice-making, on relational autonomy, and the practice learning for PAs, support workers and for people with intellectual disabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1058-1066
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities
Issue number5
Early online date12 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Dr Sandra Dowling led the analysis in this paper with the Misfits Theatre Company, a group of actors with intellectual disabilities. She has a particular interest in creative methodologies and in how personal assistance works for people with intellectual disabilities.
Val Williams is an emeritus professor, and led a large project called 'Getting Things Changed' at Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies. She has a research background in co-production and in the fine-grained analysis of interactions.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies


  • conversation analysis
  • decision making
  • interaction
  • mental capacity
  • relational autonomy
  • support practices


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