The Truth About Invisible Disabilities

In the past, I’ve shared my fear about raising black children in this world, particularly in the current climate of our society.  It is downright scary knowing that they will experience hatred and discrimination simply because of the way they look, something for which they cannot control.  It is my and my husband’s job to equip them with the tools necessary for dealing with this inevitable while preparing them to be successful in a world that typically does not root for the Black person (unless, of course, they are playing a sport or singing a song).  But what happens when you factor in the wildcard variable that an invisible disability presents?

When we first shared of Noah’s diagnosis to family and friends, we were met with the same kind of response… “well, he doesn’t look like he has it” or “he looks normal to me.”  Granted, these responses were probably due to a overall ignorance and misunderstanding of what Autism is and how it presents, but these responses still bothered me.  How was he supposed to look then?  What does a person with Autism look like exactly?  You know Autism is not the same as Down Syndrome, right?  Many children diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, autism, learning disabilities, bi-polar disorder, depression etc.  often present to the “untrained eye and ear” as “normal”- a word I have come to loathe.  These children often don’t “look” different and often the way in which these diagnoses manifest themselves can often be mislabeled as misbehavior, insanity, and stupidity.  And while the focus for many parents with White children diagnosed with such disorders is to meet the child where they are at, most of us as parents of children of color simply cannot afford to just do that.  We at the same time must find ways to accommodate for our child’s challenges while simultaneously trying to figure out how to incorporate the lessons for preparedness for the world in a way that will best fit our child’s understanding.  This is so very difficult!

An example can be found in how the media assesses those who commit crimes.  If a white person were to go into a public place and begin shooting, questions about his mental state usually arise.  That white person is often given the benefit of the doubt because he or she must have a mental disorder to do what he or she did.  However, if a person of color were to do the same, that same consideration is not automatically made.  Usually we hear more things of the assailants upbringing or their involvement with a certain group.  There is never that same benefit of the doubt because our American culture is in-bedded in the belief that people of color are somehow “sub-human” and are not as “civilized.”  And so with these subconscious beliefs, how then do we raise children who are differently-abled to overcome these stereotypes that often label people of color as lazy, stupid, and violent, when their conditions can often manifest themselves in behaviors that can emulate the former?

I think the first step is to put a face to the child… to see the child for who they are and not what the label says they are.  These children are more than their diagnosis and their challenges are not enough to take away from how amazing they are and how promising their futures will be.

I have been blessed in my journey as a momma to children with special needs to meet friends who are sharing in this journey with me.  Although we all have different parenting styles, we all share a fervent passion for being the best advocate for our child that we can be.  We also know the pain of knowing what the world has in store for our precious little ones and understand very well the overwhelming feeling of having to prepare them for such a world particularly in regard to the challenges their diagnosis presents in their lives.  I have taught my children that they might have a diagnosis but the diagnosis will not have them and that they are in charge of their emotions, not the other way around.

See the child, not the behavior.

James*, 7- ” ‘He doesn’t look autistic.’  You know, you’re right. He looks handsome, intelligent, powerful, and motivated.  He’s a little dynamo and is conquering milestones every minute!”


Layla, 8- “My work has to be perfect.  I don’t know why but it just does. I just don’t always know how to get started.  And that frustrates me.”
Jordan and Jonathan, 9- “They don’t act the way they do because of bad parenting…I am doing everything I can do help them be successful- academically, socially, and mentally.”
Aaliyah Mae, 9- “It’s a silent ordeal but I seem okay.  But I fight every day to be okay.  “Fear is always around but I refuse to let it paralyze me.”
Noah, 9- “I’m just not interested in certain things.  Other things really interest me more! And I feel uncomfortable around new people sometimes, like I don’t wanna talk to them.”



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