A bioecological perspective of human development on autonomy of an athlete with intellectual disability

Verena J. Pedrinelli, Graciele M. Rodrigues, Carolina Campos, Flávia R. de Almeida, Luis F. T. Polito, Maria Regina F. Brandão


This study´s aim was to investigate elements that foster autonomy in the life of a swimming athlete with intellectual disability, under the perspective of the bioecological theory of human development. A qualitative case study was used to describe the contexts in which the athlete was present and participating. The roles of the representative of the family responsible of the athlete´s education and of the coach that contributed and/or interfered in the autonomy of this athlete were analyzed. One male athlete with intellectual disability attending a Special Olympics 24 years old, as well as his mother and swimming coach were interviewed. A semi-structured interview was used. The descriptive and interpretative analysis was based upon the process-person-context-time model. Results show that dispositions, resources and demands observed in proximal processes in the microsystem of the home/family environment and the sport environment reflect specificities that demand a contextualized approach of the modus operandi of the athlete. It was possible to observe that attributes were developmentally instigative, and positive personal characteristics have been combined influencing autonomous behavior. Results also showed that activities in the home/family environment as well as in the sport environment have an important effect on autonomy. Apparently, personal beliefs prevail in actions adopted by mother and coach, reflecting their important role in the change of the athlete´s behavior. Therefore, proximal processes are of fundamental importance in any interpersonal relationship. The adopted bioecological perspective allows considering sport as a favorable environment for human development.


Personal autonomy; Psychology; Sports; Intellectual disability; Bioecological perspective; Human development

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