Social networks and people with intellectual disabilities: a systematic review

Rachel Harrison, Jill Bradshaw, Rachel Forrester-Jones, Michelle McCarthy, Sharon Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Despite the importance of social networks for health and wellbeing, relatively little is known about the ways in which adults with intellectual disabilities in the U.K. experience their social networks.
Method: A systematic review was completed to identify research focused on the social networks of adults with intellectual disabilities. Studies published from 1990 to 2019 were identified. Studies were thematically analysed.
Results: Quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods studies were analysed to identify key factors influencing social networks. Experiences of people with intellectual disabilities identified themes of identity, powerlessness, inclusion, family, and support. These themes are discussed with reference to theories of stigma and normalization.
Conclusions: Stigma and normalization can be used to better understand the needs, desires and dreams of people with intellectual disabilities for ordinary relationships, from which they are regularly excluded. Implications for policy and practice are discussed in relation to building and repairing often spoiled identities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities
Early online date17 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • normalisation
  • policy
  • relationships
  • social networks
  • stigma

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