What Are Hidden Disabilities?

A hidden disability is also known as an invisible disability because it’s one that another person usually can’t see. Invisible disabilities can include chronic pain, a traumatic brain injury, an anxiety disorder, or another condition that can impair one’s ability to complete everyday tasks. Some of these conditions may qualify for disability benefits depending on their severity and medical evidence.

15 Common Hidden Disabilities

  1. Diabetes
  2. Brain injury
  3. Anxiety
  4. Depression
  5. ADD/ADHD
  6. Autism
  7. Arthritis
  8. Sleep disorders
  9. Chronic pain
  10. Cystic fibrosis
  11. Epilepsy and seizure disorders
  12. Learning disabilities
  13. Hearing loss and vision impairments
  14. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions
  15. Lyme disease

People with an invisible illness can suffer from mild challenges to debilitating pain. Unlike a visible disability, a hidden disability may not look like anything from another person’s perspective. But to the individual with a disability, it may cause stress, fatigue, pain, illness, and other symptoms that affect their quality of life.

Hidden disabilities are often permanent and can affect multiple facets of the life of a disabled person. People with invisible disabilities may struggle with keeping a job, attending school, or even with their relationships with friends and loved ones.

What is an Invisible Disability?

An invisible disability is a condition that doesn’t usually have concrete physical symptoms that others can see. People with invisible disabilities may take medications or undergo therapies to treat the symptoms of their condition. However, they still can struggle with daily tasks, like cooking, bathing, or getting dressed.

It can take a long time and several specialists to diagnose an invisible condition, like fibromyalgia or autism spectrum disorder, because a diagnosis relies on medical evidence. It’s often difficult for people with hidden disabilities to explain their symptoms and their severity.

One of the most significant obstacles people with hidden disabilities face is judgment from others. A chronic medical condition can be challenging to diagnose because symptoms aren’t as physically noticeable as symptoms of a physical disability. It’s necessary to bring awareness to invisible illnesses to ensure that people with disabilities like diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder get the care they need.

15 Common Hidden Disabilities

Many hidden disabilities can affect you or your loved ones, but the following list includes some of the more common conditions, some of which may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

1. Diabetes

Although diabetes causes several symptoms and can lead to other severe conditions, it’s not a condition that you can see. Diabetes is a protected disability in most circumstances because it can impede your lifestyle and cause other problems, like kidney failure, heart disease, and neuropathy.

However, the SSA doesn’t always consider diabetes symptoms severe enough to pay disability benefits to someone with the condition. In most cases, you’ll need to experience chronic symptoms that affect your daily tasks and ability to work to qualify.

2. Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when you fall, get hit in the head, or are involved in some other accident that results in a brain injury. People with TBI don’t always experience outward symptoms, but they may think and behave differently and experience chronic symptoms, like pain, sleeping problems, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensory issues.

Some TBI symptoms are temporary, but others can be permanent. Medical professionals usually refer to a TBI as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on what happened and the symptoms you experience.

3. Anxiety

Anxiety can be a debilitating condition that affects all areas of life, from relationships to the ability to take care of a family. An anxiety disability is also one of the most difficult for others to accept because people may never see a person with anxiety experience symptoms.

An anxiety disorder can cripple those it affects. In addition to constant worry, anxiety can make you restless, tense, stressed, irritable, tired, and unable to focus. Some people with anxiety struggle being around other people or in certain situations that trigger their symptoms.

4. Depression

Some people may qualify for depression disability benefits if they experience sleeping problems, suicidal thoughts, attention problems, extreme weight loss or gain, or other symptoms that could interfere with their daily life.

This hidden disability usually comes with a stigma that can be difficult for people with depression to overcome. Because some people believe depression causes one to become unstable, dangerous, or attention-seeking, people with depression may isolate themselves or refuse to seek help. Mental illness like depression can become much worse for a person if they don’t have a dedicated support group in place.

5. ADD/ADHD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are most often diagnosed in children. However, this condition carries into adulthood, although symptoms can become easier to control with treatment and age.

ADD and ADHD affect the ability to concentrate, control impulses, stay organized, carry on conversations appropriately, and remember things. People with ADHD can struggle in school, work, and their personal lives while forming relationships and completing tasks.

6. Autism

Some people with autism have symptoms that are noticeable to others, but many on the spectrum may not. Mild to moderate autism conditions could affect a person’s speech and language, interests, ability to adapt to change, and social interactions. Many people with autism struggle in multiple areas, from self-care to communication to learning.

Autism may qualify you for Social Security disability benefits, but you’ll typically need medical evidence to prove your symptoms. Impaired language and communication skills, self-care abilities, and sociability are some of the factors the SSA will consider in determining eligibility.

7. Arthritis

Arthritis comes in a few different forms, and each of them may qualify for arthritis disability benefits. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most severe types that can cause extreme inflammation and pain in the body’s joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can also cause problems with other parts of the body, like your skin and bone marrow.

Osteoarthritis is more common, and it happens when the cartilage in between the body’s joints breaks down, causing inflammation and pain. Although age is a significant risk factor for osteoarthritis, the condition can also affect young people and people who are overweight.

8. Sleep Disorders

People may experience sleep disorders only while they sleep, but the symptoms resulting from their illness can last all day. Insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and other conditions make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get enough sleep at night.

Not getting enough sleep each day can lead to other long-term conditions, including obesity, heart problems, diabetes, and depression. Your immune system could also take a hit, making your body less able to fight off infections and viruses.

9. Chronic Pain

Chronic pain sometimes occurs from an underlying medical problem. Common conditions that cause chronic pain include fibromyalgia, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetic neuropathy, and multiple sclerosis. Other times, there is no known cause for it. Either way, the condition can be debilitating for those who experience it.

Chronic pain alone usually won’t qualify you for disability benefits. You must have proof of x-rays, lab results, and other medical tests that prove some type of underlying issue exists that causes you pain.

10. Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that worsens as you get older. The chronic condition affects the lungs and digestive system with its production of mucus that interferes with organs. People with cystic fibrosis usually suffer from ongoing lung infections caused by mucus buildup, and their pancreas and liver may wear down over time.

Cystic fibrosis begins as an invisible disorder in many. Over time, though, those with the condition usually experience frequent illness and symptoms, like vomiting, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

11. Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders

Epilepsy and other seizure disorders can affect both children and adults. Seizures may sometimes occur randomly and few and far between, leading to an undiagnosed condition. Some seizures may be a result of another condition, like epilepsy.

People with a seizure disorder may experience a seizure at almost any time, including while working or driving, making the condition extremely dangerous. With medical evidence of tests, exams, and symptoms that interfere with your daily living, seizure disorders typically qualify for disability benefits.

12. Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities come in many forms, but usually affect reading, math, language, or a combination of these areas. A learning disability makes the brain function differently than average, interfering with things like memory, focus, and planning in addition to learning.

A learning disability usually warrants extra accommodations in school to bridge the gaps in a student’s education. A person with a learning disability may be held back a grade in school, added to intervention groups, or placed in a special education classroom.

13. Hearing Loss and Vision Impairments

Hearing loss and vision impairments aren’t always visible from the outside, especially if a person chooses not to wear hearing devices or glasses. Still, these conditions can significantly disrupt one’s everyday life, making it challenging to work, communicate, and complete daily tasks.

You may qualify for disability benefits for either of these conditions if you experience more than mild challenges, and your degree of loss meets the standards the SSA establishes.

14. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Other Mental Health Conditions

A psychiatric disability or mental health condition, like bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is an excellent example of an invisible disability. These conditions impact one’s thinking skills, behaviors, impulses, and moods, leading to severe cognitive dysfunctions that no one around that person can see.

Some mental health cases are eligible for Social Security benefits if you have enough medical evidence from mental health professionals to back up your claims about the severity of your symptoms.

15. Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a frequently misunderstood condition that can become incredibly challenging for some. While some people experience little to no symptoms – they sometimes don’t even know they have Lyme disease – others experience severe pain, arthritis, chronic fatigue, heart palpitations, or nervous system damage.

Lyme disease occurs in stages, and the late-stage condition can affect many parts of the body. It’s difficult to diagnose, though, making it challenging for individuals with the disorder to get approval for disability benefits.

What are Hidden Disabilities?

If you or a loved one have an invisible disability that causes chronic illness, pain, and other symptoms that affect your quality of life, you should seek help from a qualified medical professional. With plenty of medical evidence that documents your symptoms and gets you closer to a diagnosis, the easier it will be to qualify for disability benefits.

Invisible disabilities affect many, yet we don’t know that many of those people are suffering. To take action and raise awareness, you can participate in Invisible Disabilities Week, hosted by the Invisible Disabilities Association, which happens annually in October.

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About the Author: Usman Babar

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