What does resilience look like for people with intellectual disability?

Dr Allyson Thomson1

1Curtin University, Australia

Resilience refers to the action of rebounding after adversity. Although there is little agreement on what elements protect against adversity and promote resilience, many of the factors identified in the literature share commonalities and link together into domains and dimensions. Resilience is a multi-dimensional and dynamic concept involving both personal and environmental factors, and the interactions between them.

Informed by thematic analysis of literature from the last decade, a conceptual framework was constructed to connect in an hierarchical fashion the factors that contribute to resilience. Many elements were identified from a number of scales commonly used to measure resilience. Special attention was paid to papers describing resilience in people with intellectual disability.

The framework identified two dimensions of resilience: psychological well-being or assets; and social and environmental support or resources. The assets were further divided into: ways of thinking; ways of acting; and ways of believing – all domains associated with the personal characteristics of the individual. Resources were: support from individuals and individual interactions; community support; and political support.

Many of the factors identified in this framework are difficult for people with intellectual disability to attain or access. This framework can guide future investigations into ways to promote the psychological well-being of people with intellectual disability and to develop community supports. These factors will act to build the capacity for resilience and to better help people with intellectual disability deal with adverse events in their lives.


Allyson has been involved in intellectual disability research for much of the last 15 years. She has been employed at Curtin University for the last seven of those years. She has undertaken research using both quantitative and qualitative methods, but prefers to investigate the lived experiences of people with intellectual disability and their families and carers.

Allyson is a Director of the Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability (ASID) and has an active involvement in several ASID committees. She also volunteers for Befriend, an organisation dedicated to developing a truly inclusive society.

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