Beacon Hill Training

“Where knowledge meets experience”

What Are Hidden Disabilities?

It took years and a lot of pressure from me for my son to be tested for dyslexia and given the help he needed, he went from a child who was struggling academically to a child who is in all the top sets at school.  The school he was at categorized him as not particularly bright and naughty.  Even after he was diagnosed one teacher told me that she didn’t ‘believe in dyslexia’, words I had heard in my own childhood.  

Im now 41 and also dyslexic, looking back at my own childhood I was never diagnosed at primary or secondary school, in fact it was in my third year of university when I asked to be tested.  In primary school I was left in the art room for the majority of my time at school, I remember watching the other children being taught English and Math’s in the other classroom.  I myself worked out at the beginning of secondary school what my condition was after watching a tv programme about it.  It took me five years to get to the top sets and to catch up to my friends.   The usual excuse was that dyslexia was not known about ‘in those days’ but the fact is that it really was, it was in the news and it was on the tv, I know I remember.

I wonder now why things have not changed now for my own son? 

As a Social worker and a Teacher I came across so many cases where hidden disabilities had not been identified and where help had not been given, not just dyslexia but a whole host of other ‘hidden disabilities’.   Professionals even now do not recognize a disability if it not ‘seen’ or apparent, or underestimate its impact even if they do.   Because a condition isn’t ‘seen’ often means that it can be ignored.  

Here are just some conditions that are classed as ‘hidden disabilities’:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Autism / Asperger’s syndrome / Dyscalculia
  • Epilepsy
  • ADHD
  • Diabetes
  • H.I.V
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Heart conditions
  • Depression

To name but a few.

The impact of children’s lives

Hidden disabilities have a significant impact on children’s lives, on their teenage years and adulthoods as well as their life chances in general.  There are even links between such conditions and suicide rates for teenagers and adults, there is a reason for this.  

There is a huge tendency for people with hidden disabilities to conceal that they have a disability, because it is hidden it is easier to do so.  This goes for adults as much as children, no child wants to be thought of as different and so they ignore a problem to be more socially acceptable, as an adult many people feel they will not get work or will lose a job if they tell people they have difficulties.  As a Social Worker at the beginning of my career I told a manager I was Dyslexic, after her hugely negative reaction that left me in fear of losing my job.  Following this I for many years concealed my disability.  I can certainly see why people do this! 

What needs to change is for all professionals involved with children to gain a better understanding of Hidden disabilities and put into place the help, support and services to ‘enable’ children and teenagers to counter the effects of their hidden disabilities and to help them grow into the productive and well balanced adults they can be.  To reach their potential.  Professionals working with children are the ones who need to create change and who will have the greatest impact on their lives.  We are all still failing our children.

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