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Does Your Child Have a Hidden Disability

By Jill Curtis

"What's wrong with you?" are words which have been shouted in frustration and anger at many children, often by the most loving parent. For instance, when a child doesn't fasten a seat-belt as quickly as another or takes forever to get dressed in the morning. A child who is always knocking things over is likely to be called "clumsy" or worse, and told a hundred times to be more careful. Which parent, if he or she is honest, has not been exasperated by a child who doesn't "catch on" in the way the other children seem to? Have you ever told your child to snap to, and not to make such a drama out of everything?

The question which worries away at many parents is whether this behavior signals an "invisible"disability? Each family has its own pace of doing things, so for a child always to be late, to have a shoe missing or to ignore precise instructions can upset the equilibrium in some households. Whereas there are other parents who are more at ease with a child's differences, and may be unwilling to accept that he has a disability, if he is always slow to dress, or if he needs that extra bit of help in the morning. (I say "he" because more boys are diagnosed with invisible disabilities than girls. But, it should be remembered that my comments to apply equally to girls.)

But, the signs may need to be taken seriously. For instance, having an auditory attention problem means that you cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time. Most of us are used to dealing with several things at once - we are listening to the radio, we are keeping an eye on the toast, we are pouring milk, and at the same time reminding a partner to be home early - so if a child who can only deal with one thing at a time it means that he is always in trouble with someone. "Get out of the way!" "Hurry up!"and "Aren't you ready yet?" Think for a moment what it must be like to be such a child: listening to instructions from mum is all you can concentrate on so the second sock is not put on. Even the cacophony of ordinary household sounds can be so disorientating that getting dressed for school becomes a daily nightmare. Parents who have experience with other children, even younger siblings, who get more organized each day as they grow up, are bewildered and may be right to suspect that there is a hidden disability about which they need to consult someone.

It must be terrible to be bombarded constantly by sounds and signs which are incomprehensible. On top of this some hidden disorders make it impossible to distinguish between different emotions, so just imagine what this would be like on top of an auditory attention problem and you will have some idea what it is like to be a child with an unrecognized disability.

What must it be like to have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or Asperger Syndrome before anyone realizes there is a problem? "Sit still" "Why can't you concentrate like anyone else?" "I have told you that a hundred times!" These are only some of the things said to these children. Indeed, many parents have reported to me that as the symptoms became more obvious and intrusive, they could not help getting more and more exasperated and exploded with angry outbursts at their children.

This unhappy situation is, of course, brought on by a parent's uncertainty about what is happening and what to do when "ordinary" parental strategies don't seem to be working. This in turn makes the child even more anxious, and the spiral escalates with alarming speed.

However, there comes a moment when a parent has to face up to asking themselves the most painful question of all: "Is there something not right with my lovely child? And what can I do about it?"


Jill Curtis is a psychotherapist and her new book Does Your Child Have a Hidden Disability? has just been published by Hodder and Stoughton. She hopes that her new book will help the parents who are worried in this way - some of them quite unnecessarily - to find the advice they seek.

Jill Curtis 2003

 

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