Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Dr. Elizabeth Anne Kinsella


Children with disabilities are at risk for limited opportunities to engage in childhood occupations. Occupation is defined broadly as everything people need, want, or are obliged to do, and as understanding how social dimensions shape occupations and opportunities for participation. Emergent literature suggests that identities are shaped by what we do. This research examines how occupation is implicated in the shaping of identities for school-aged children with physical disabilities in light of the socio-cultural dimensions that shape opportunities for children to participate in childhood occupations.

This work is comprised of five integrated manuscripts, in addition to introduction, methodology, and discussion chapters. The first manuscript contributes to disciplinary discussions about occupational identity as an emerging construct and calls for a socio-cultural theoretical perspective to considerations of occupational identity. The second manuscript examines a disability studies perspective, and introduces the concept of reflexivity as important for professional practice in occupational therapy. The third manuscript discusses photoelicitation as a promising method for eliciting children’s perspectives in research. In addition philosophical underpinnings, practical considerations, ethical considerations, and examples from this research are discussed. The fourth manuscript reports on the empirical work, examining how occupation is implicated in the shaping of identity for children with physical disabilities. In depth case studies were used to investigate participation in occupations and perceptions of identity with six children and their parents. Each case was analyzed using concept maps and coded for conceptual categories. Six categories are presented: Perceptions of Self and Other: Living with Disability; Family Identity, Tradition and Culture; Relational Identity: A Sense of Belonging; Pride, Success, and Seeing things through…; Growing up and Keeping Up; and Identity as Dynamic. Finally, the fifth manuscript revisits the topic of reflexivity, and discusses its merit in ethical research with children.

This thesis contributes to knowledge pertaining to socio-cultural factors that shape opportunities for children to participate in occupations, and the relationship between occupation and identity for children with physical disabilities. In addition this work contributes to methodological and ethical discussions about conducting research with children. This work has implications for occupational science, health care professionals, policy, children and parents.