Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Health and Society


Emerging adulthood has been identified as a unique developmental stage within developed countries. Generally associated with ages 18-25, emerging adulthood is seen as a time of: identity exploration; instability; self-focus; a sense of feeling in-between; and possibilities. It is a time of profound change when people develop, review and update their plan for the future. While emerging adulthood is a journey of significant change and transition for all young people, it may be even more challenging for young people with a lifelong disability such as cerebral palsy (CP). This research aimed to address significant gaps in knowledge around the individual stories of emerging adults with CP from their own perspective, and their collective experiences. It also aimed to critically examine the relevance of both developmental and disability frameworks to the experiences of emerging adults with CP. To achieve this aim, the theory of emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000) and the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF, World Health Organisation, 2001) underpinned this study.

A qualitative, narrative inquiry guided by the methodological approaches of Donald Polkinghorne (1988; 1995) was undertaken with eighteen participants with CP aged 18-25 years who lived in New South Wales, Australia (mean age 21 years; 11 male, 7 female; 11 metropolitan, 5 regional, 2 rural). Severity and type of CP varied. Multiple in-depth unstructured interviews were conducted with each person to explore their experience of emerging adulthood. Interviews continued until participants each felt they had ‘told their story’.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.