Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Youth with Disabilities Talk about Spirituality: A Qualitative Descriptive Study

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Youth with Disabilities Talk about Spirituality: A Qualitative Descriptive Study

Article excerpt

A primary feature of adolescence is the growing sense of self in the world through the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes preparatory for adulthood. This is typically achieved by learning through formal education, exploring interests and developing skills and abilities within recreation and leisure, volunteer and work activities, as well as taking on various roles with increasing independence and responsibility. As part of developing their personal identity, youth often exhibit a stronger movement toward developing relationships outside of family, along with an emerging sense of empowerment in taking on adult roles and formulating a sense of direction for their life. Youth's spirituality is thought to be significant in the development of a healthy, positive self-identity that is foundational to the moral and civic responsibilities of adulthood (Lerner, Alberts, Anderson, & Dowling, 2006). Spirituality in children and youth has been identified as a source of motivation that has been largely unrecognized within developmental frameworks (Hart, 2006). As Hart (2006) posits "Children already have a spiritual life; they have access to wisdom and wonder, struggle with questions of meaning and morality, and have a deep sense of compassion" (p. 175). Accordingly, their spirituality cannot be ignored.

As a construct, spirituality is difficult to understand due to a wide variety of definitions as well as the diversity of ways in which it may be investigated (Larimore, Parker, & Crowther, 2002; King, M. et al., 2006; Shek, 2012). However, it is primarily viewed as having a positive influence and is increasingly recognized as relevant for youth in relation to their global QOL or life satisfaction (Kelley & Miller, 2007), well-being and happiness (Holder, Coleman, & Wallace, 2008). The spiritual attributes of youth, including their sense of existential well-being (purpose, meaning, sense of future), was found to be relevant to their overall quality of life (QOL) (Sawatzky, Gadermann, & Pesut, 2009). In particular, "feeling good about the future" and "peace of mind" were important to the youths' physical and mental health status. In adolescent mental health studies, a relationship between spirituality, health and QOL has been identified (Ferriss, 2002). A systematic review of recent research in adolescent religiosity/spirituality and mental health indicates that in 90% of the studies reviewed, adolescents who reported higher levels of religiosity/spirituality were also more likely to report having better mental health (Wong, Rew, & Slaikey, 2006).

Study of the spirituality of sick children who are hospitalized has been emerging in recent years (Feudtner, Haney, & Dimmers, 2003). However, within the field of pediatric rehabilitation, research related to spirituality has tended to focus more on the families of children and youth with disabilities (King, G.A. et al., 2006; King, G.A., Baxter, Rosenbaum, Zwaigenbaum, & Bates, 2009) or on adults who are reflecting retrospectively about spirituality in the context of their childhood disability experience (Schulz, 2005; Specht, King, Willoughby, Brown, & Smith, 2005).

The perspectives of youth with disabilities need to be considered (Rosenbaum, Livingston, Palisano, Galuppi, & Russell, 2007) as youth have an "inner life" (Boston, Mount, Orenstein, & Freedman, 2001) that can contribute to our understanding of their QOL (Davis et al., 2008). Optimizing QOL can be considered a key goal in pediatric rehabilitation (King, G.A. et al., 2002). In a quantitative study of QOL for youth with physical, developmental or communication conditions, McDougall, Wright, Dewit, & Miller (2014) identified a positive correlation between spirituality (defined as "any strong beliefs or feelings the youth may have") and QOL. In past qualitative studies that have explored what youth with disabilities think is important to their QOL, youth rarely self-identify "spirituality" as significant. …

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