Special Education ETDs

Publication Date



This study investigated the perceptions of persons with intellectual disability (ID) receiving support and the persons providing support regarding the autonomy of people with ID and how they perceive that it is either supported or denied within daily interactions between direct support professionals (DSPs) and people with disabilities. The participants included 10 people with ID receiving various support services and 10 DSPs. This qualitative investigation used interviews to examine issues related to the support role, the support relationship, the decision-making process of DSPs and the lives of people with ID. Analysis of participant interviews revealed that although participants with ID were capable of demonstrating their autonomy, DSPs faced several challenges that contributed to their difficulty in supporting autonomy of people with ID. Both groups of participants noted that DSPs had to demonstrate care towards people with ID to effectively support their autonomy. Some additional findings were that challenging behavior of individuals with ID may be caused by the lack of choices provided; that DSPs' concentration on the safety, health, and protection of persons with ID often limited the expression the autonomy of persons with ID. I found that DSPs often exerted subtle, pervasive, obvious, or overt control over the individuals they supported and often prioritized institutional goals over the goals of individuals with ID. In summary, paid caregiving presents problems in supporting the autonomy of those receiving support, despite the often well-intentioned efforts of the DSPs.


People with mental disabilities--Attitudes, People with mental disabilities--Psychology, People with mental disabilities--Services for--Evaluation, People with mental disabilities--Social conditions, Autonomy (Psychology)

Document Type




Degree Name

Special Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Special Education

First Committee Member (Chair)

Avila, Magdalena

Second Committee Member

Armstrong, Jan

Third Committee Member

Luckasson, Ruth

Fourth Committee Member

Scherba de Valenzuela, Julia