The Challenges and Benefits of Using Participant Observation to Understand the Social Interaction of Adults with Intellectual Disabilities Academic Article uri icon


  • Observation methods have been used in both communication and interaction research. Qualitative interpretive approaches are rare where participants have complex communication needs. Issues for qualitative researchers utilizing participant observation research methods have been well documented, but a similar discussion is lacking where the participants are people with severe intellectual disability. Observational data collected from a study of adults with severe intellectual disabilities in interaction with their social network members were scrutinized to identify challenges and benefits of participant observation. Challenges identified include the consent process, changing roles, and researcher intrusion. The use of participant observation with adults with severe intellectual disabilities allows for unexpected insights and provides context and credence for other lines of inquiry. Participant observation may be useful with other groups of people.

publication date

  • December 2011