Special Education ETDs


Jason Buckles

Publication Date



Matters of sexuality and concepts of risk have played a central role in the development of systems of supports for people with intellectual disability (ID) in the United States during the past 150+ years. As community based programs have risen in prominence since the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s men and women working as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) have been tasked with a myriad of responsibilities which may at times include enacting supports or limitations on the sexual or possibly sexual actions of people with ID. How DSPs experience their jobs, understand, and make decisions regarding sexuality is an area of investigation that has received little attention to date. When possibly sexual actions by people with ID are classified as challenging (i.e., possibly sexualized challenging behavior; pSCB), our understanding of the roles, duties, and experiences of DSPs working in community-based systems has been unaddressed in the literature. This study sought to examine the perspectives of DSPs working at a single provider agency, which has a history of supporting individuals with ID and a wide array of pSCB. A grounded theory approach was utilized to analyze the recorded and transcribed statements of 12 participants who individually completed a semi-structured interview. Results of this research revealed participant experiences and perspectives that reflected many aspects of historical systems development and related literature. An overall grounded theory of Being Between was developed via multiple levels of coding and analysis of transcribed data. In essence, participants described the experience of supporting people with ID and pSCB as navigating between a series of internal and external factors (e.g., risk and rights; seeing the potential for change and not; variations in professional roles and relationships). Member checking procedures with participants were utilized to reduce the influence of researcher subjectivity and help ensure that the findings of this research matched the experiences of participants. Findings were also compared to research from other fields (i.e., concepts of moral distress) and further analyzed from Foucaultian perspectives on sexuality, power and the subject, and the panopticon. While the findings were limited due to the small sample size and single study site, the results of this research begin to give voice to the men and women who work in support of individuals with ID and pSCB and guide avenues for future research in this domain.


Special education, Intellectual disability, Adults, Direct Support Professional, Sexuality, Sex, Challenging Behavior, Grounded Theory, Qualitative, Interview, Foucault, Moral distress

Document Type




Degree Name

Special Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Special Education

First Committee Member (Chair)

Luckasson, Ruth

Second Committee Member

Copeland, Susan

Third Committee Member

Armstrong, Jan

Fourth Committee Member

Scherba de Valenzuela, Julia