Staff understanding of their role in supporting adults with intellectual disability

Prof. Monica Cuskelly1, Dr Karen Moni2, Dr Anne Jobling2, Dr Mary McMahon2, Dr Jan Lloyd2, Dr Chez Leggatt-Cook2

1University of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia, 2The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Staff working in services for adults with intellectual disability play an important role in creating and maintaining opportunities for their clients inside and outside their organisation. Being aware of how staff understand their role with respect to supporting their clients will contribute to organisations’ abilities to deliver on their vision.

One hundred and seventy-three staff responded to a vignette about the life and aspirations of an adult with intellectual disability, and then described their role in supporting that adult. Staff were all from one large service organisation and were predominantly in direct service roles. Data were analysed using the text analysis tool Leximancer followed by a thematic analysis using a rubric based on a document produced by the Independent Advisory Council (IAC) of the NDIS identifying strategies to support adults attain an ordinary life.

Leximancer analysis revealed two major conceptual themes which were labelled ‘Support for autonomy’ and ‘Business as usual’. Some respondents (5%) were unsure about their role and 8% explicitly acknowledged the goal of ‘an ordinary life’ for the adults with whom they worked. All overarching strategies identified by the IAC were included in the responses, although some (e.g., Promoting Contribution) by a very small proportion of respondents. None of the targeted strategies was suggested by more than 15% of respondents and some were overlooked entirely.

Assisting staff to recognise the links between support strategies and processes (e.g., person-centred planning) and client and organisational aims may assist organisations to better deliver desired outcomes.


Monica Cuskelly is a developmental psychologist whose research focus is on the life span development of individuals with intellectual or developmental disability and the influences on development.