top of page
Support worker assisting a person to make a sandwich.

Active Support and Engagement 

Diagram showing the 4 Essentials of Active Support.

Many people with intellectual disabilities need support to:

  • be engaged 

  • interact with others

  • communicate 

  • make choices 

  • participate in activities at home or in the community


Active Support is a way of providing the right support for a person to be engaged and have a good quality of life.

This video introduces Active Support. 


Engagement means doing things – participating in a meaningful activity on your own, with another person, in a group, or interacting socially.

People need to be engaged to have a good quality of life.


Engagement is: 

  • interacting with others – saying hello to a neighbour or having a conversation with staff, family, or friends

  • exercising to keep fit and healthy

  • participating in enjoyable leisure activities

  • doing tasks at work

  • doing everyday things around the house or in the community

This video explains engagement and disengagement.

Some of the footage in this video was edited to show disengagement. Some support intentionally demonstrates doing to or for people supported.


Many people with severe intellectual disabilities need support to participate and be engaged. Without support, they are often disengaged for long periods of time. Just sitting or standing, waiting, watching what others are doing. 


Being disengaged:

  • impacts on emotional well-being 

  • contributes to repetitive or self-stimulatory behaviour, and self-injury  

  • can mean staff don’t see the person as an individual who has interests and preferences

People with severe intellectual disabilities need staff to: 

  • pay attention and notice them

  • be responsive to all their communication  

  • include them in conversations and activities 

  • support them to be engaged

Many people with less severe disabilities can engage in activities or conversations by themselves. 

They need staff to: 

  • be responsive to them 

  • encourage them to be engaged 

  • support them to try new or more complex activities and extend their skills

  • know when to provide assistance, or stand back and not take over 

When staff use Active Support, people with intellectual disabilities are more likely to:

  • be engaged in meaningful activities and social interactions 

  • exercise more choice 

  • have a better quality of life

  • display less challenging behaviour

Active Support is also good for staff. It gives them purpose, satisfaction and the tools to make a difference.

Active Support v a Hotel Model

If staff don’t use Active Support, group homes are like hotels - staff do everything for people. 

Active Support prioritises quality of life – people’s engagement, choice and inclusion. 

In contrast, the Hotel Model prioritises physical appearances and staff getting tasks done. This clip shows the problem with a Hotel Model.

This table compares Active Support with the Hotel Model:

Active Support


  • frequently provide opportunities for people to be engaged in a range of activities 

  • provide the right support for each person to be engaged

  • offer choices to each person 

  • are attentive, listen and respond to each person’s communication 

People in group homes: 

  • frequently engage in different activities throughout the day

  • are involved in household tasks

  • frequently interact with staff and are supported 

Staff encourage participation and do things with each person

People are involved in planning and choosing what happens and when

A good service is where:

  • people have good quality of life 

  • each person experiences, choice, participation, inclusion and well-being 

  • relationships are valued

  • personal care is responsive

Hotel Model


  • do the household tasks 

  • interact and engage with people when tasks are done 

  • focus on leisure activities or going out of the house

People in group homes:

  • have lots of free time 

  • are often disengaged as they are left to entertain themselves

  • wait for support until staff have finished chores 

Staff do things for or to a person 

Staff plan and decide what happens and when

A good service is where:

  • the house is neat and tidy

  • domestic tasks are done

  • personal care needs are paramount

  • people get out of the house



Use the table to think about a service that you know or work in. 

  1. Is the service like the Active Support or Hotel Model? Can you describe why?

  2. What needs to change so that the service is more like the Active Support model and less like the Hotel Model?

Active Support is a way to support people with intellectual disability to engage in meaningful activites and social interactions. Many people with intellectual disabilities are disengaged for long periods of time. When staff use Active Support people are engaged for longer. Being engaged is important for a good quality of life. 

The next module looks at doing Active Support. We introduce the 4 Essentials of Active Support. Then we focus on the 1st Essential Every Moment Has Potential. 


bottom of page