Insights and perspectives on relationships and friendships: Views from adults who are labeled as mentally retarded

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Stephen T. Murphy


special education, sociology, family life

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Social Work | Sociology


The purpose of this qualitative research is to learn from adults who are labeled mentally retarded how they feel and think about the relationships and friendships in their lives. Previous research in this area typically has not focused on the meaning given to the relationships and friendships by the person labeled as mentally retarded, but rather from the perspective of the researcher.

Informal, but in-depth interviews with seven adults labeled mentally retarded, living in different residential settings (e.g., institutional, group home, agency, or own apartment), and from different geographical sections of the state have been conducted.

Peripheral interviews have been conducted with individuals who the participant identified as particularly meaningful (e.g., best friend). The peripheral interviews have served as a method to both clarify and add additional meaning to the participant's perspective.

Findings regarding the number, patterns, types, nature, and the participant's perception of his/her relationships and friendships have focused on the following: (1) participant's definition of friendship; (2) the role and impact of family on friendships; (3) staff and participant relationships; and (4) what factors determined and influenced the participant's relationships.

Possible implications, strategies/actions, and a staff to friend transformation process that promote relationships and friendships are discussed.


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