Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Counseling & Psychology

First Advisor

Donna San Antonio


Disability research is broad in nature and covers a variety of experiences and conditions. Of critical importance in disability research is the delineation between the social and medical models of disability, and how these varying definitions inform one’s understanding of disability and internalization of the meaning-making of living with disabling impairments. Research exists on the adult experiences and retrospective accounts of individuals with disabilities. However, missing from these studies is the voice of children with disabilities. While there is an awareness that decreased self-concept and stigma exist surrounding childhood disability, there is limited data that considers how children make meaning from their experiences related to disability.

This qualitative study compiles the stories of twelve children (ages eight through 12) who have been identified with invisible disabilities. Data consist of semi-structured interviews, drawings, and a storytelling activity. Findings show that four themes emerge from the many stories told by children. Namely, children interpreted their experiences in both positive and negative ways, indicating feelings of hardship, frustration, and sadness, but also opportunities to grow and foster resilience. Children defined disability in a flexible manner, acknowledging both the medical and social features of disability as they grappled to understand what it means to not be “normal.” Participants were critical of the education system, both regarding how teachers reach their students as well as how the structures of school do or do not meet the individual needs of disabled individuals. Finally, participants could identify stigma and features of self-stigma or stereotype awareness, even if they do not have the vocabulary yet to name these structures explicitly. Implications and recommendations are provided to help educators challenge ableism and childism in the world of education.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Number of Pages