How To Tell If Someone Has A Disability


No really.  I know what you’re thinking.  “But of course you can, Jenn.  I’ve seen people in wheelchairs and they obviously have a disability, right? And that kid in my son’s preschool class who can’t walk or talk and has an aide… well, duh … disability!”

And you’re not wrong.

But you are wrong.

Not every disability is physical.  Not every disability is obvious.  Not every disability is instantly recognizable.


This came up at Vista’s physio/sensory group again.

We’ve been going to this group for about two years.  It’s been good for V on so many levels.  It helps with her socialization, it definitely works on her sensory issues, it helps with her fine and gross motor.

But Vista looks and sounds normal compared to most of the other kids.

There are several new kids and mom’s to the group, right now.  So I knew this question would come sooner or later.  It always does.

“Why is Vista even here?  She looks fine to me.”

Yes.  I’m sure she does.

But you don’t notice how she doesn’t have the balance to walk up or down stairs without holding onto something.  You don’t notice her refusal to do most crafts because her hands might get dirty.  You don’t notice when we’re sitting in circle and her gaze goes vacant as she has a seizure.

Yes, I know she speaks very well.  But that’s the result of 2.5yrs of speech therapy, months spent signing, and countless hours spent reading together and working on her verbal skills.  But you don’t notice that she can’t blow out her birthday candles because she simply can’t coordinate her mouth to make that ‘O’ sound.  And you don’t notice how she mixes up syllables on certain words.  And you don’t notice how her mouth droops on one side in what looks like a mini-stroke when she tries to form words or sounds she’s not comfortable with.

I’m sure she seems charming and engaging.  That’s only because you haven’t seen her melt down and try to attack another child or hurt herself.  Her favorite thing right now, when she’s stressed, is to pinch her hand over and over until it bruises.  But you wouldn’t notice that.  All you see is my daughter sitting quietly while she does this.

And you can’t magically look into her brain and see that it looks like swiss cheese compared to most of the other kids there.

Vista is very adept at hiding her challenges.

But the fact is, my charming blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter is considered disabled.

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t make it any less true.

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