Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Anna Stetsenko

Committee Members

Joseph Glick

Kristen Gillespie-Lynch

David Chapin

Priya Lalvani

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology


Discourse, situated practices, developmental disability, neurodiversity, sociocultural


From a traditional perspective, disability stood outside the normal bounds of development, belonging within the realm of pathology and the disabled person was defined as deficient. Disability may also be characterized as an instance of human diversity and disabled as a designated identity that is socially constructed in an ongoing process—an interaction between individuals and social contexts. The process of disablement is linked to discourses used to define and act upon people ascribed with a disabled identity. This study assumes that disability is an instance of human diversity, a valid developmental trajectory, which is enacted and embedded in sociocultural, political, economic, historical, and discursive contexts. Discourses contribute to how disability is understood and then enacted in policies and situated everyday practices. With a focus on the human service delivery system for developmentally disabled people, I assessed discourses and conceptualizations of disability enacted by service providers through narrative inquiry. I also collaborated with service providers through a focus group discussion, guided by sociocultural theories on teaching and learning, to introduce neurodiversity and disablement as a contextualized process. The results of this study suggest the situated nature of discourse, with varying language as it relates to local practices. Situated practice-based discourses enacted “on the ground” were in tension with local/service-driven and deficit-based languages. The ways of conceptualizing and understanding disability, however, were consistently that of a socially contextualized construct. Service providers negotiated different positions in attempts to exercise agency and contest the designation of passivity attributed to disabled people they work with. Their language, however, varied and incorporated deficit-based, local, and situated practice-based discourses. Although disability is understood as a complex process beyond personal deficiency, discourses appear to remain in transition.