Monday, February 23, 2015

Hidden Disabilities

From the time couples discover they're pregnant, they worry about whether or not their child will be normal. During the nine month period, a waiting-to-be mom constantly questions her doctor about the development of the unborn fetus. She gladly subjects herself to various tests designed to detect possible problems. If a serious defect is confirmed, couples oftentimes grapple with the horrible decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Many disabilities are obvious: the blind, the deaf and dumb, the amputees, the mentally-challenged, the wheelchair bound, the tremor-stricken. The outward appearances along with acompanying odd behaviors send out explicit signals that translate into abnormalities. These folks, no matter how hard they might try, cannot hide the fact that they're different. Whether born with one, or suffer some known or unknown factor that causes one isn't of importance. In our society, when you look or behave outside the norm, you're damaged goods.

Yet there are many people whose disabilities are hidden not only from others, but from themselves as well. I think I can best illustrate this fact through example.

A ten-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair takes his basketball to school everyday. At recess he practices shooting on the asphalt court marked off precisely for that purpose. When he misses the hoop, and the ball rolls away from him, he calls out to his classmates for a little help. At first everybody pretends not to hear him. Finally as his voice grows louder, one of the boys tells him to get it himself. Another one kicks it even farther away. Seeing that his efforts are in vain, the boy wheels passed the group and retrieves the ball. On his way back to the court, he asks several kids to join him, but all refuse his invitation. When the recess bell sounds, the fifth graders dash to be first in line, every one except the boy in the wheelchair. Obviously he can't compete with his able-bodied counterparts, so he must accept his inferiority without complaint.

Why would his classmates act in such an ignorant, heartless manner towards a boy who is only trying to fit in? Perhaps their disabilities are far more severe but hidden from view. Pretending not to hear a call for help is a form of denial, not acknowledging the request means the request wasn't made at all. Kicking the ball farther away suggests a fear of transference. If the kid picks up the ball, in his mind he is subjecting himself to possibly contracting the very disease that robbed the disabled boy of his mobility. And by not accepting an invitation to join in a shoot-around reflects the boy's fear of what the group would think and do, They might decide to label him as abnormal, and shun him for his interaction with the wheelchair-bound boy. Peer pressure is the strongest contributor to these hidden disabilities that plague our children today.

Yes, physical and mental disabilities are obvious, but they are lived with, overcome, and many times used to advance one's status in life. The boy in the wheelchair has accepted his fate, he's refused to let his shortcomings stop him from reaching for the stars, and I'm sure, as an adult he will become a remarkable man who will make a difference in the lives of many, even of those who labeled and shunned him in childhood.

But most of those who are afflicted with hidden disabilites, will never overcome them because what you don't acknowledge, you can't change. And unfortunately for them, their inability to understand their shortcomings will inhibit them from reaching for the stars, and limit their advancement as adults.