Identity and Meaning in an Unimagined Future: The Effects of Life-Altering Physical Disability Acquired During Emerging Adulthood

McCullough, Katherine
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Emerging Adulthood is the term that developmental psychologists use to describe the stage of life in between adolescence and adulthood. During these years, individuals determine their core values and find their place of belonging in the world. These years are typically viewed as those with individual’s highest level of beauty, physicality, and opportunity. Young adults do not imagine what their current lives would look like if they had a physical disability, something that seems to belong in a different category than youth. There is, however, a space where disability interacts with young adulthood that has yet to be fully investigated. I conducted a Grounded Theory study in order to explore ways that individuals cope, learn, and achieve with physical disabilities when they are developed during emerging adulthood. Through a series of semi-structured interviews, I gathered data directly from thirteen individuals who developed a life-altering physical disability between the ages of seventeen and twenty-nine. Through the use of constant comparison between my field notes and current literature, three major themes emerged: How does this experience change me? How does this experience change others? and How do I find meaning in this? In this thesis, I explain how these themes relate to this particular experience of disability, and I offer a unique lens with which to view the interaction of disability and young adulthood.

Disability., Grounded theory., Emerging adulthood.