Relationships matter! Utilising ethics of care to understand transitions in the lives of adults with severe intellectual disabilities

Paula Jacobs, Ethel Quayle, Heather Wilkinson, Kenneth Macmahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Within the current literature there is a focus on early transition experiences, such as people’s school years, while adulthood remains a lesser researched chapter in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Furthermore, most studies focus on those with mild or moderate intellectual disability and people with severe or profound intellectual disabilities are often excluded from research.

Methods: This article explores the transition journeys of six adults with severe intellectual disabilities, including transitions from school to adult services and moving out of the family home. Data collection involved observations, document reviews and interviews with families and professionals. Taking an ethics of care perspective our focus was to explore in how far each person had people in their lives able to listen to them and if in turn, those close to them were listened to during times of transition.

Findings: Our findings demonstrate that transitions are complex processes that occur across different systems. Additionally, our findings emphasise the importance to consider relationships that are available to people within their adult lives when planning and supporting transitions. Combining interviews with observations helped us to see how the six adults showed agency and were communicating their preferences through the relationships they had to people within their immediate environment.

Conclusions: The need to reconceptualise participation from a relational and interdependent perspective is stressed to facilitate the involvement of people with severe intellectual disabilities within decision-making processes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Learning Disabilities
Early online date23 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Mar 2021


  • transitions
  • severe intellectual disability
  • ethics of care


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