How to Understand Invisible Disabilities

I have noticed lately that people talk about two categories of disabilities: visible and invisible. Because I use a power wheelchair, my mobility disability is obviously visible. I also have known for a long time that I have an invisible disability called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. But are so-called invisible disabilities really invisible, or do non-disabled people not know what to look for?

Learning about ADHD

Last year in my high school psychology class, I began to really understand what ADHD is and how it affects me. (I didn’t have the attention span to learn about it before). I found psychology so interesting that over the summer, I chose to attend a camp run by Stanford University Medical School to learn more about different kinds of brains and how they work. The camp was called “SNP REACH” (Stanford Neurodiversity Project — Research and Advocacy Camp for High Schoolers). I learned that the more you learn about invisible disabilities, the more visible they become.

ADHD and Becoming Hyper Focused

First of all, pretty much every invisible disability creates certain recognizable strengths. Let’s take ADHD. Sure, it’s harder to regulate your attention, but the flip side is that you can often hyper-focus on activities that you find interesting or challenging. For example, one of my favorite things to do is to play video games. I started playing Minecraft when I was little. Now, I like to play a lot of other games too, such as Pokémon Sword and Shield, Stardew Valley and Phasmophobia. When I play video games, I am so focused that I can totally lose track of time for hours on end. Sometimes I even forget to eat!

Maddie plays video games while sitting in her Stretto Power Wheelchair

It’s not just video games that I can focus on so intensely though. I can hyper-focus on anything I really like, including playing wheelchair tennis, reading manga, writing fictional stories, assembling 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, and solving geometry problems. I get in this zone where I can work so hard and stick with things long past the point when other people might give up… if I like what I am doing.

Tools to Help Me Stay on Track

Of course, there are some downsides to hyper-focusing, like occasionally forgetting to do something important (homework), but I have developed a zillion strategies to deal with this problem. For example, I create daily routines, written checklists, and reminder alarms on my phone. I also try to exercise to help me regulate my attention and energy.

Sometimes, I still struggle to push through tasks that are not engaging for me, like writing English essays, but I am getting better at that. I have learned that finding some way to move my body can really help. I also take a brain break for ten minutes. If I am at home, I add some form of cardio exercise, such as punching my boxing bag. It’s like a reset that allows me to get back to work.

Maddie and her Stretto Power Wheelchair with iLevel

Now that you know more about my supposedly invisible disability of ADHD, do you still think it’s really invisible? I think there is a stereotype that only visible disabilities count as real disabilities. As a result, people with invisible disabilities sometimes must fight harder to be believed and to get accommodations. I wish more people would take the time to learn about different invisible disabilities. This way, everyone who has one can feel proud and be recognized for all the things they can do!

About Maddie Kasten: Maddie is a Q Roll Model for Quantum Rehab. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and enjoys participating in adaptive sports, playing video games and watching anime. Click here to learn more about Maddie.

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