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Hidden Disabilities in Children

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:42 AM by Eli Roberts
By Adriana G.

From far away, they look perfectly “normal.” They might be disguised as the children who disrupt class, the not so bright students, or the ones who are always out sick. They don’t have the typical features you would imagine when picturing a child with a disability; they blend right in with the rest of the school. Students with invisible disabilities are all around us, often going undiagnosed and misunderstood within the school system. Although they look the same, their form of learning might be drastically different from the form of a regular developing child. Teachers need to learn about these disabilities in order to effectively address the educational needs of these students.

What is an invisible disability?

Invisible disabilities are those that are not immediately apparent. There are many disabilities within this spectrum. In this text, we will address some of the most prevalent disabilities in schools: intellectual disabilities, speech impairments, and chronic health impairments. Although invisible, these disabilities have a huge impact on a students’ ability to learn. As teachers of students with these impairments, we must learn as much about what they are, how they are typically manifested in children, and general interventions we can use to better prepare them for academic achievement.

Intellectual Disabilities

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Development Disabilities, an intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior. This can impair many everyday social and practical skills. The severity and prevalence of the symptoms can be broken down into four different levels: mild, moderate, severe, and profound. Students who have this disability might learn and process information at a slower rate than regular developing students, have difficulty with abstract concepts, struggle with recalling newly learned information, and have a hard time making close personal relationships. We, as teachers, can better serve these students by introducing lessons to them in small pieces, giving directions in short, simple steps, and connecting abstract knowledge to real world examples.

Speech/Language Impairments

Under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), speech or language impairment means a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Students with these impairments may use incorrect grammatical patterns, have very limited vocabulary, and struggle with expressing their ideas effectively. Some tools that can help us better serve this population of students are vocabulary guides, mnemonic devices, and giving them the ability to express their ideas in creative ways which do not necessarily involve speech.

Chronic or Other Health Impairments

Under IDEA, a student is classified as an individual with other health impairments if they have limited strength, vitality, or alertness that adversely affects their educational performance. Some of the disabilities qualified under this category are chronic or acute illnesses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, and heart conditions. Due to the diversity of the disabilities clumped into this category, the academic struggles of these students might look a little different. Students with ADHD might have behavioral problems, be distracted easily, and have trouble following multi-step directions. To address these concerns, a teacher simply needs to understand the need for structure in the lives of children with ADHD. A teacher can help her students with ADHD by creating simple and structured lessons for the child, eliminating unnecessary distractions around his/her classroom, providing constant cueing, and giving frequent breaks.

On the other hand, a student who has a different chronic health impairment such as a heart condition might have a completely different set of academic barriers. A student with a chronic heart condition might miss class more than other students due to doctors’ appointments causing him/her to fall behind. We might address the needs of these students by planning for absences. The teacher might decide to coordinate with the parents and possibly email or send home the lessons for the child to review on the days he/she is not in school. Another option for the teacher can be to plan for extra time to spend with the student in order to get him/her caught up with the class.

By learning more about our students’ invisible disabilities, we can make a huge difference in their academic success. We, as teachers, have the power to mold the future of our students. By becoming experts in what our exceptional students need, we can all work together to find their strengths, make proper educational accommodations, and modify our curriculum in order to further close the gap between our regularly developing students and our students with hidden disabilities.