Exploring Transition to Adulthood with Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Through Photo Elicitation

Exploring Transition to Adulthood with Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Through Photo Elicitation

Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota

Matthew A Roberts, MS, Seunghee Lee, PhD, Emily Unholz-Bowden, PhD, and Renáta Tichá, PhD

Exploring Transition in Minnesota logo

Note: This is the expanded and accessible version of a poster session presented at the AAIDD Annual Meeting, June 10-12, 2024, in Louisville, Kentucky.


In transition services, achievements of young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are often defined by what the education system perceives as important for adulthood.

However, it is equally important to understand what students themselves value about adulthood.

Taking into account the students’ desires can help guide transition services to support them in learning the skills they need to reach their goals.

Photo Elicitation is a qualitative research method using photos taken by participants to elicit in-depth discussion about a topic.

Benefits of photo elicitation as a data collection method:

  • Gives control to the participants about what is important to them
  • Provides an alternative form of expression about their experiences

Research Questions

  1. What experiences of transition do students focus on and find meaningful?
  2. How do transition-aged youth define their adulthood?
  3. What aspects of the environment represent their pathway to adulthood?


  • A photo elicitation method was used to capture the transition experiences of students with IDD and their visions for adulthood.
  • The project included 10 students ages 18-21 receiving transition services in Minnesota.
    • 3 males; 7 females
  • The students attended transition programs in two partnering districts as part of a Project of National Significance on transition service for youth and young adults with IDD.
  • Students were provided with a digital camera, instructions on how to use it, and directions to take photos of things or places that represent their transition into adulthood.
  • After 2-3 weeks, we interviewed each student about their top five favorite photos and the importance of each photo.
    • “What is in the picture?”
    • “Why did you take this photo?”
    • “What does this photo say about your path to becoming an adult?”
  • Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.

Theme 1: Future dreams and goals

Dining room table displaying four cookbooks

“When you find a really good recipe, then you're like, oh my gosh, I can't wait to get this done. And it's also really, really fun cooking with my mom because I love being around her and being able to cook with her.”

Fire truck with a fire helmet painted on the side with the words honoring america's bravest

“I want to go to school on how to operate a fire truck and I've always wanted to learn how to do the art on the fire trucks.”

Suburban house with long driveway.

“Basically somebody living in there doing everyday stuff, whether it's lawn work or housework or getting a good night's sleep…it's really important for rest after work and staying with family”

Theme 2: Things of importance (future and current)

sculpture of human face lying on ground in a garden

“It's learning differently that you could do paper with a computer or something maybe sculpturing.”

Black dog looking at camera wearing a purple colar.

“It just makes me happy.“

Harley-Davidson logo on kitchen counter

“...could possibly work, I guess work on a motorcycle if I get to be a mechanic… “

Theme 3: Preferred leisure activities

Black computer laptop resting on a sofa with the nuber 31 on the screen

“...to watch it and play on it [computer] and I like to play games on it.”

Sunrise over shopping mall.

“I just enjoy, enjoy it when the sun rises and sunsets.”

basketball hoop against a cloudy sky

“It’s my favorite hobby, and that’s what I do when I [have] free time.”


  • Although students had goals related to employment, post-secondary education, and community living, they also valued goals related to leisure and staying socially connected.
  • Students see their program activities as essential for maintaining social connections.
  • Students recognize the need for continued skill development to achieve their goals.


  • Schools should support students' current activities and interests into adulthood.
  • Transition programs should facilitate activities that help students maintain social connections.
  • Transition planning should include goals beyond just work, education, and independent living, such as leisure, family, and friendships.

Table 1. Number of photos by content category

Photo Content Category

Number of Photos





Outdoor Places/Objects




Signs/Logos or Words Represented by an Object


Bulletin Boards


Food Related


Clothing Items


Elements of a Game or Sport




Educational Materials


Electronic Devices




Musical Objects


This project was funded by Administration on Community Living (ACL), #90DNCE0007-03-00, awarded to the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. This document is available in alternative formats upon request.

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