Influences of chronic illness and disability: Identity development in pediatric camp counselors

Samantha G. Sweet (2006)

This study integrated developmental and learning theories to understand what motivated individuals to become counselors at a pediatric summer camp, how former campers handled the transition to the role of counselor, and the impact of the former campers' camp experiences on their identity development. Phenomenological interviews were used to investigate the gaps in the literature concerning individuals with chronic illness/disability who work at pediatric camps. Results indicated that (a) counselors who had an illness or disability and those who did not shared similar motivations to work at the camp, (b) the experiences of fitting in and being treated like a "normal" child were very meaningful and influential in the former campers' identity development, (c) mentoring and social modeling facilitated the transition into the role of counselor, and (d) identity development in the areas of career goals, relationships, values, and worldview was strongly influenced by the experiences the participants had as counselors and as campers. The positive impact the former campers turned counselors have on campers afflicted with similar ailments is discussed. Directions for future research and implications for identity theory for individuals with disabilities are highlighted.