invisible disability - person thinkingMost people these days know the basics about special educational needs. But what sort of issues do people often overlook.

A mental marathon

I’ll get the negative bit over with first – invisible disabilities can be a lonely thing. You use up extra brain power to make sense of your studies, or to connect with people or even to keep up in class, yet you are still more likely to fall behind in such areas than your peers. For example I’ve often felt like I’m making my brain run a marathon trying to maintain social interaction that isn’t necessarily very fulfilling to either me or the other person. A real challenge.

How to help?

Invisible disabilities can be a different story to physical ones. As is probably obvious – they are less physically limiting for a start. However, you can generally look at a physically disabled person and see at least part of what they struggle to do, even if you do not understand their condition. With learning disabilities, you cannot see how a person might struggle until they tell you. Want to know how to help them? Just ask. There is nothing more annoying than someone treating you like you’re six because they don’t know what you really are capable of. Or it can bring up the issue of…

Cutting some slack vs gentle correction

Now this might not be an immediately obvious one. Yet strangely it can impact so many areas of life depending on the nature of the disability. Studies, social situations, physical activities, you name it. Do you make allowances for that mistake or do you explain it to the person? Are they just being irrational or is it mental illness? What’s more I have been on both sides of that situation. Awkward or what? The key to this: correct the person when it really matters. Simple as that.

Thinking/remembering differently

For a long time, this was all I could put my finger on when it came to having Asperger’s. Going to a place once does not mean I will remember the way. If given several instructions I will forget some. I don’t always recognise acquaintances if I see them out of context. Yet I do remember exactly what happened when I first met my best friend. I do remember displaying autistic behaviour as a child that I wasn’t aware of at the time. I do remember the weirdest of facts without remembering how I know them. Contrary to popular belief, few special needs people have memories like a film – I see mine as more like YouTube!

Getting better at acting normal

I’ve grown to associate this issue with mental illnesses. It can take all a sufferer has for them to put on a brave face – or even a “normal” face – in a way that may be hard for those without to appreciate. But then again you do see dyslexic people reading, writing or spelling fluently. Or autistic people who can socialise and even form friendships. You may have heard of how Daniel Radcliffe struggles with dyspraxia? It didn’t block his path to success – it just meant extra practise at less dyspraxia-friendly activities. Whether our struggles are emotional, social or linguistic, the same principle can apply.


By Grace Liu