Search This Blog

Friday, July 10, 2020

Invisible Disabilities: Hidden Pain

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  One challenge is that autism is an "invisible disability," which does not have obvious physical markers.  

Andrew Solomon at NYT:
The word “disability” evokes images of ramps, lower-positioned urinals, grab bars and other allowances in our architectural landscape. But an untold number of people have disabilities — from A.D.H.D. to addictive disorder to lupus — that aren’t necessarily helped by a reserved parking spot. A person who walks with a limp but uses no physical support may be jostled on the street like anyone else. An autistic person, or a person with a mental illness, will often be disdained or even assailed for peculiar or antisocial behavior.
The Center for Disability Rights (C.D.R.) lists the following invisible disabilities: “learning differences, deafness, autism, prosthetics, Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I.), mental health disabilities, Usher syndrome, bipolar disorder, diabetes, A.D.D./A.D.H.D., fibromyalgia, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, sleep disorder, Crohn’s disease, and many more.” Post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis are other invisible disabilities. The C.D.R. cautions, “Unless it is disclosed, no one knows for sure whether someone has an invisible disability.”
Societal reactions to hidden disabilities can be harsh. Some parents of autistic children say that it is difficult to be in public with a neurotypical-seeming child who suddenly experiences a huge meltdown because of apparent sensory overload. People stop and stare, offer unsolicited advice or reprimand the parents for their presumed abuse or indifference in the face of their child’s outrageous behavior. People with schizophrenia have been spared some opprobrium by the invention of cellphones and earbuds: It can be hard to tell on the street who is engaged in imaginary conversation with nonexistent people. Yet while people with untreated psychoses are seldom dangerous, their behavior can be erratic and jarring, and because it is not always understood as being rooted in a mental health condition, it often provokes unpleasantness, even violence.

Students granted extra time to take a test may be met by the cynicism of peers; some may choose not to avail themselves of a reasonable accommodation because they fear being stigmatized. Working people who require specific environmental conditions — an autistic person, for example, may need an office without florescent lighting — may attract suspicion and even mockery.
Wayne Connell founded the Invisible Disabilities Association in 1996 after his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and late Lyme disease. He was frustrated by the outside perception that she didn’t have a real infirmity.