Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Dr. Kay S. Hoffman

Second Advisor

Dr. James J. Clark


The shadow of stigma theory typically surrounds the research investigation of the lives of individuals with mild intellectual disabilities. McAdams’ life story theory and methodology provide a human development framework as an alternative to the prevailing framework in the field of disability. This study moves out of the shadow of otherness and examines the personal identity making process of twelve individuals with mild intellectual disabilities in the light of human development theory. Findings dispel the assumption that individuals with mild intellectual disabilities construct their lives solely through their disability. Rather, the identity making process includes the influences of socio-cultural events, religion, mentoring, advocacy, and the lived experience of disability.

In this study, twelve adults with mild intellectual disabilities completed adapted life story interviews and four quantitative measures to explore the themes and patterns of agency, communion, redemption, contamination and generativity. Additional qualitative analysis expanded the range of discovery for influences in the identity making process. Following analysis of the quantitative scores, interviewees were placed in either the Higher Generativity Group or Lower Generativity Group. Analysis occurred at three levels: within case, within group and between group.

Differences between the groups emerged, such as, involvement in human rights advocacy, presence of mentors and spiritual guides, and religious beliefs. Human rights advocacy provided a rich source of generativity and meaningful connection to others, politically, socially and emotionally. Turning point narratives often contained religious and redemptive content themes. While interviewees did not narrate the majority of scenes with disability centric content, one-half of the interviewees narrated disability content in their high point scenes, suggesting the positive internalization of their disability into their personal identity. The major findings confirm the importance of studying the life stories of this population from the perspective of human development theory. This study presents conclusions that impact research methodology for this population, as well as, social work research, policy development, practice and education.