PhD Graduates – Pearson

Geraldine Sanner Pearson, PhD
Spring 2002

“Growing Up in Pieces: Adolescents with Pervasive Developmental Disorder Transitioning Into Adulthood”

About the thesis: Transition into adulthood is a developmental outcome of late adolescence. The transition to independent living, for all adolescents, represents a normalizing task towards adulthood. For some adolescents with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) this transition occurs against a back-drop of impaired social relatedness, lengthy out-of-home placements, limited family support, and limited financial resources. The purpose of this study was to ascertain the experience of adolescents with PDD who have transitioned into a supervised apartment setting associated with an adult mental health services provider. The research questions addressed in this study were: What is the experience of adolescents with PDD who have transitioned into a supervised apartment setting? How do adolescents with pervasive developmental disorder perceive their current functioning?

Introduction: The concept of transition, proposed by Chick and Meleis (1986) as a central concept of nursing, was used to guide the study. Descriptive qualitative research methodology was used to analyze data. Purposive sampling was used to recruit participants. Ten individuals volunteered to participate in a face-to-face interview that occurred in their apartments. A semi-structured interview was used to gather data around living environment, presentation of self, personal history, and relationships with others. The predominant request posed to participants was: “Tell me about something that has happened in the last few months that helped you understand that you were growing up and becoming more independent in your living.” Thematic analysis occurred with all interview data.

Results: This research resulted in a number of themes. Descriptions of the growing-up event were clustered around issues of increasing independence, clarification of relationship with mother, and accountability. Other identified themes included unrealistic goals for the future and poor physical health. The predominant and unexpected theme from all participant interviews involved chronic sorrow. Participants were sad about their life situations, what they were missing, and what they lacked in social relationships. Nurses need to be aware of the quality of life issues around managing a severely impaired population attempting to live within a community. This study described the life situations of ten impaired participants involved in structured independent living within a community. Acknowledgements Many people have provided help, support, and encouragement during the conception and completion of this study. I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to each of them for listening, understanding, and pushing me to move forward with the research. My husband, Lloyd Pearson and my children, Elizabeth, Neal, and David have watched and supported this process in a myriad of ways too numerous to mention. In the end, they took over tasks and kept me organized and throughout, never failed to indicate their pride in my accomplishment. I want to thank my parents, Wade and Doris Sanner and my father and mother-in-law, Carl and Harriet Pearson for their support. I especially want to thank my mother, a registered nurse, who lived a passion and love of her profession that permeated my growing-up years and strongly influenced my decision to become a nurse. She has always said that a nurse can accomplish great things that help others in this world and she is right. I want to thank my colleagues at Riverview Hospital for Children and Youth for creating a supportive work environment that allowed this endeavor. I want to especially thank Pauline Kruk at the Connecticut Valley Hospital library for her support over many years as a librarian who always promptly responded to my many requests. I am grateful to my friends and fellow doctoral students at the University of Connecticut who provided advise and encouragement. I also want to express my gratitude to Elizabeth D’Amico and William Smalley, from DMHAS, who supported this study and assisted me in getting access to participants. I could not have completed this dissertation without the support and encouragement of my major advisor, Kathryn Hegedus. She always knew when to push and when to be gentle and I will be forever grateful. This dissertation has been a journey with her that I will never forget. I also want to thank my other committee members, Laura Dzurec and Olga Church, for their enthusiasm and attention to detail. The thoughtful critique of all committee members was invaluable. I want to especially thank Peggy Chinn for the many Friday mornings spent around her dining room table with a lively group of faculty members and doctoral students hammering out “the question” and the process of conducting a dissertation study. These mornings sustained me and were invaluable in finishing the process. I also want to thank Regina Cusson and Carol Daisy, the faculty members who graciously agreed to read this dissertation. Finally, I want to thank the ten participants in this study who chose to trust me with their thoughts and perceptions of their lives. It was a privilege to know them and to try to better understand their struggles as they grow into adulthood.