Hidden disabilities are various types of disabilities that are not immediately recognizable by the naked eye. Individuals with hidden disabilities may face unique challenges, like social stigma and a lack of acceptance from people who don’t understand their disabilities.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Brain Injury
- Chronic Pain
- Digestive Disorders
- Learning Disabilities
- Lyme Disease
- Mental Illnesses
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Sensory Processing Disorders
- Sleep Disorders
- Spinal Disorders
A hidden disability, also known as an invisible disability, is one that is not as obviously noticeable as others. For instance, physical disabilities can be easier for people to recognize because they could affect how someone walks, talks, hears, etc. However, non-visible disabilities are more common than you might realize, and they can be just as debilitating as visible disabilities.
Understanding the nature of invisible disabilities is the first step toward accepting those with them. The Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA) spreads awareness, advocates for people with an invisible illness, and educates others on how to help and advocate for them. It’s crucial for every disabled person to feel understood, whether they have a visible or invisible illness.
Hidden disabilities are not obvious to the naked eye. For example, people with a chronic illness, learning disability, or mental illness may appear to others as if they do not have a disability. However, their disabilities are often more neurological, causing them to face symptoms and challenges that others can’t see.
While hidden disabilities are no less important than visible disabilities, they can sometimes be difficult for others to acknowledge. While seeing someone in a wheelchair may be a consistent reminder that a person has a disability, the same does not hold true with invisible disabilities.
That’s why getting Social Security disability benefits for a hidden disability can be challenging. People with invisible disabilities, like chronic pain, Lyme disease, or traumatic brain injury, may require extra evidence to prove their disability and daily challenges to receive disability benefits.
People with hidden disabilities may benefit from seeking the help of a disability lawyer who is well-versed in these types of disabilities. A disability lawyer will work to understand the condition and individual’s symptoms to take the best course of action in getting a person the monetary help they deserve.
Several hidden disabilities exist in the disabled world, but the following are some of the most common.
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are developmental disorders. ADD mostly affects an individual’s attention span, while ADHD may also affect impulsivity and hyperactivity. The conditions may cause disorganization, poor school performance, difficulty building relationships, and low self-esteem.
According to CDC data, ADHD is estimated to have been diagnosed in 6.1 million children through age 17.
Allergies can stem from environmental triggers, seasonal changes, or food. Allergies can cause abnormal reactions to things such as dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, bacteria, nuts, and eggs. While some people experience mild reactions to their allergens, others can have severe reactions that make them ill. Some allergic reactions can be fatal. People with severe allergies must consistently ensure that they avoid their allergens.
People who live with an anxiety disorder can experience generalized anxiety or trigger-specific anxiety. For instance, some individuals have anxiety in social situations, while others might have unpredictable panic attacks. For people with an anxiety disorder, completing regular daily tasks, like grocery shopping, paying bills, or going to work, can produce debilitating anxiety. However, they may appear to others as if they’re okay.
Arthritis causes mild to severe pain in the joints. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in the joints to wear down over time, causing stiffness, pain, and decreased mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition in which the body attacks the joints. According to Healthline, rheumatoid arthritis tends to develop quickly, happens more often in women, and can occur at any age.
Asthma is a chronic disorder that causes breathing problems. People living with asthma may experience frequent shortness of breath and chest pain, especially when around allergens or during physical activity. Asthma can affect daily living in some people who have frequent asthma attacks, as some attacks can become so severe that a person cannot catch their breath, even with the help of an inhaler.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) encompass various neurological conditions that cause mild to severe symptoms. Some people with autism are unable to speak, have difficulty functioning in social settings, and struggle to adapt to change.
ASD can also influence cognitive dysfunction, relationship building, and physical disability. While ASD symptoms vary between people, some may experience migraines, motor delays, and musculoskeletal conditions.
Brain injuries can happen for various reasons. Some babies are born with neurological disorders, but traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs from a blunt force injury to the head. Brain injuries can cause a breadth of other symptoms, including chronic pain, sleep disorders, nerve conditions, seizures, vision or hearing problems, and speech or motor issues. Some TBI cases are fatal – the CDC reports 61,000 TBI-related deaths in the United States in 2019.
Several conditions can cause chronic pain, including neurological disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, and physical injury. One of the most common types of chronic pain is back pain, but people may also have neck pain, arm or leg pain, hip pain, or general body pain. Because pain stems from a person’s neurological system, it’s a disability that others cannot see unless the person shows physical symptoms, like limping or wincing in pain.
Depression affects a person’s mood, ability to socialize, behaviors, and desire to be involved in hobbies or activities. Some people with depression can also have digestive problems, chronic pain, and sleep issues. The mental health condition can impact several areas of daily life, like taking care of personal responsibilities, keeping up with hygiene, and attending work. Depression is a disability when symptoms are severe enough to prevent someone from working.
People with diabetes are unable to control their blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body doesn’t make enough insulin to control sugars. Type 2 diabetes does not allow the body to use insulin effectively. Either condition may cause a person with diabetes to be on regular medications to control their insulin and blood sugar levels each day.
Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease are examples of digestive orders classified as hidden disabilities. From the outside, a person with any of these conditions appears unaffected. However, internally, the person could suffer from stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, fatigue, and other symptoms stemming from an off-balance digestive system.
Epilepsy affects about 150,000 people in the United States each year. The condition is a chronic condition that causes seizures, which some people may experience regularly. Epilepsy can be congenital, genetic, or caused by a brain injury. People with frequent seizures may not be able to work, drive, or complete other usual tasks related to daily living.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that some people compare to chronic fatigue syndrome, as they both share two common symptoms: chronic pain and fatigue. However, people with fibromyalgia typically state that their most significant symptom is general body pain. The pain can come and go, but flare-ups can be so debilitating that it affects one’s work and daily tasks.
HIV is an immune virus that can lead to AIDS if not controlled. Symptoms accompanying HIV include cough, fever, weight loss, rash, and muscle aches. When AIDS develops, it could cause weakness, chills or sweats, recurring fevers, and persistent fatigue.
Learning disabilities affect how a person understands taught concepts. These disabilities vary and may affect reading, math, speech and language, and more.
Some of the most common learning disabilities include dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. Other conditions, like dyspraxia and ADHD, can sometimes coexist with learning disabilities or other cognitive problems.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect several body organs and functions. Most notable, people with lupus often experience problems with their kidneys, but lupus can also cause chronic pain, skin issues, heart problems, and liver issues.
Inflammation is a key concern for people with lupus. Inflammation can flare randomly and rapidly, leading to pain and organ and tissue damage. Arthritis, ulcers, and neurological disorders can stem from lupus.
Usually caused by a tick bite, Lyme disease is prominent in the United States, especially in areas where deer ticks are more commonly found. People who contract Lyme disease may first notice a bullseye-shaped rash on their skin at the site of the bite, along with general fatigue and headaches.
However, others show no symptoms and may live months or years without knowing they have Lyme disease. The condition can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough, but severe cases can be fatal.
Mental illnesses like schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder, can severely impact how a person functions each day. Still, some people with mental illness appear as if they aren’t suffering to others while having consistent internal battles and physical symptoms.
An inflammatory disease that affects the neurological symptom, multiple sclerosis can affect multiple areas of the body. People with the condition may experience speech problems, nerve pain, urinary incontinence, cognitive impairment, anxiety, and muscle spasms.
Different subtypes of multiple sclerosis cause varying levels of severity. Most often, people have subtype one, which causes relapsing and remission of symptoms.
Sensory processing disorders affect the way a person experiences the world around them. An individual might be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight. The cognitive condition is usually diagnosed in childhood, but some adults may not receive a diagnosis until later in life.
Sleep disorders, like insomnia, parasomnia, and restless leg syndrome, interfere with the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get quality sleep. These conditions may lead to chronic fatigue and other issues that stem from a lack of sleep, like digestive problems, headaches, and depression or anxiety.
Spinal injuries and disorders may cause limited movement, chronic pain, and neurological interferences. While some spinal injuries and disorders lead to physical, non-hidden impairment, others invisible symptoms that affect the individual’s quality of life.
Not all disabilities require a mobility aid or show concrete physical challenges. Hidden disabilities require more awareness and understanding so that loved ones get the support they need to cope with their symptoms.
IDA encourages participation in Invisible Disabilities Week, which occurs on the third week in October each year. Activities held during the week focus on building awareness and strengthening advocacy efforts for those with hidden disabilities. You can also utilize the many resources IDA offers, like ordering a disability ID card or engaging in the online community, as an individual with an invisible disability or a supportive loved one.
Does your hidden disability prevent you from working? Reach out to an SSDFacts Advisor today for a free evaluation to see if you may qualify for disability benefits.