Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Identity Development in German Adolescents with and without Visual Impairments

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Identity Development in German Adolescents with and without Visual Impairments

Article excerpt

Identity development is a critical task in adolescence. According to Erikson (1959), adolescents achieve a coherent sense of identity by exploring and questioning values, beliefs, and goals. They then make commitments to their own personal set of values, beliefs, and goals.

Identity exploration consists of actively questioning and weighing various identity alternatives before making a decision about which values, beliefs, and goals one wants to pursue. Commitment involves making a relatively firm choice in an identity domain and engaging in significant activities to implement that choice. Marcia (1966) divided both exploration and commitment into "high" versus "low" levels to yield four identity statuses: diffusion, moratorium, foreclosure, and achievement. Diffusion refers to young people who have not yet actively explored different identity alternatives and who lack strong identity commitments. Moratorium refers to active exploration of different alternatives without strong current commitments. Foreclosure refers to adopting commitments, such as parental beliefs, without prior exploration of possible alternatives. Achievement refers to establishing commitments following a period of exploration of potential life options. Identity achievement has been considered a desirable developmental outcome (Marcia, 1966).

Adolescents with visual impairments may have difficulty achieving a coherent sense of identity for several reasons. They are, on average, more dependent on their parents and other adults than are sighted adolescents and may, therefore, be less likely to question the values, beliefs, and goals of their parents and other adults. Parents of young people with visual impairments may be overprotective and inhibit the young people's identity development (Adenzato, Ardito, & Izard, 2006). Adolescents who are visually impaired may have limited socialization experiences with peers that are important in exploring their identities (Pfeiffer & Pinquart, 2011). They may have less access to information about available opportunities for the development of identity, for example, because of their inability to access visual information. Finally, planning future goals may be complicated by the uncertainty of the prognosis of some eye diseases. Some barriers to identity development, such as limited contact with peers, may be higher for adolescents with more severe physical and sensory impairments.

Two factors, however, may counteract these barriers to identity development. When visual impairment restricts the number of available opportunities for the development of identity, individuals may need less time to explore them. Individuals with visual impairments may receive more support in exploring available opportunities for personal development from teachers, counselors, or relatives.

Only one study addressed the processes of identity development in individuals with visual impairments. Lin's (2010) case study described the identity development of a person with an acquired visual impairment based on a semistructured interview. After the emergence of visual impairment, the previous identity could not be maintained, followed by identity diffusion, identity exploration, moratorium, and identity achievement. Thus, individuals with visual impairments may reach identity achievement if they have sufficient time to adapt to their vision loss. Positive attitudes toward disability, flexibility in coping, and the availability of social support were reported as having helped this person with identity development (Lin, 2010).

Several factors may be related to the identity development of individuals with visual impairments, such as age and gender. According to Marcia (1966), as adolescents become older they tend to progress from identity diffusion to identity foreclosure to identity moratorium and finally to identity achievement on the basis of increases in the levels of exploration and commitment in identity-related areas. …

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