Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Martha Keniston Laurence

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The one-dimensional approach of assessing cognitive factors is commonplace in studies investigating people with developmental disabilities. The published literature on grief and people with developmental disabilities was found to be similar in this regard. This study differs by investigating the influence of external social factors on the grief of people with developmental disabilities. A qualitative methodology of semi-structured interviewing was used to collect descriptive information from people with developmental disabilities about their social experiences and experiences with death. Importantly, this methodology allowed the participants to speak for themselves. The effects of the participants' socialization histories and associated circumstantial losses were found to support specific personality and self-concept characteristics and to also influence the quality of the participants' grief work. The participants' socialization histories of infantilization and didactic communication eclipsed their personal authority to question their circumstances. Such a socialization history was found to yield unprocessed losses which supported defended and vulnerable personalities and self-concepts. The state of the participants' personalities and self-concepts served to illustrate the result of the general absence of processing accorded to and by the participants of their social and life experiences. Given their conditioned unfamiliarity with questioning their circumstances, their grief was found to include only reactive grief without evidence of existential grieving; that is, an internal questioning about death. This study indicates that just as the participants' social contexts defined how involved they were in determining their lives, their grief was also defined by what their social contexts will bear.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Social Work Commons