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Vulnerability to loneliness in people with intellectual disability: An explanatory model

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 00:38 authored by Gilmore, L, Monica CuskellyMonica Cuskelly
Research with typically developing groups has identified loneliness as a significant predictor of a range of physical and mental health problems. This paper reviews research about loneliness in children and adults with intellectual disability. Although a considerable body of evidence has highlighted the difficulties individuals with intellectual disability have with friendships, there is a relative scarcity of research focused explicitly on loneliness. The available evidence suggests that up to half of persons with intellectual disability are chronically lonely, compared with around 15–30% of people in the general population. The cognitive, physical, and mental health problems already associated with intellectual disability are likely to be compounded by experiences of chronic loneliness. We argue that people with intellectual disability are highly vulnerable to loneliness and present a theoretical model of vulnerability that comprises three reciprocally influencing domains: social attitudes and expectations; opportunities and experiences; and skill deficits associated with intellectual disability. We propose that societal views that have traditionally devalued and stigmatized persons with intellectual disability limit their opportunities for experiencing social and emotional connectedness with others. Individual skill deficits in areas such as communication, self-regulation, and social understanding, as well as functional difficulties associated with intellectual disability, also potentially influence the opportunities and experiences of people with intellectual disability, both directly and via multiple layers of the social context. In turn, limited opportunities will entrench particular skill deficits and reinforce negative attitudes toward intellectual disability. The model proposed in this paper provides a starting point for developing a more sophisticated understanding of the experience of loneliness for individuals with intellectual disability.


Publication title

Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities








Faculty of Education


Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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Rights statement

© 2014 International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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Socio-economic Objectives

Ability and disability

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