Inside Out 224: Hidden Disabilities

11.02.11 | Martha Manikas-Foster

We all know a woman who has learned to manage her depression or a man who makes accommodation for his anxiety disorder. For many of us, though, the term “hidden disability” is new. According to today’s guest, every day 15-20% of the population works to accommodate a disability that isn’t obvious from the outside. These are the hidden disabilities. There’s no cane or wheelchair or assistance dog to tip off the rest of us to be a little more gracious and understanding in our interactions with people managing difficulties we can’t see.

I hope you’ll listen to the conversation between Shannon Royce and me. Shannon is the president & C.E.O. of, a charitable organization that provides information on hidden disabilities to parents, family members, religious leaders and the general public. Its goal is to help families living with hidden disabilities become fully incorporated into the Body of Christ.

Chosen Families works the kinds of disabilities that are rooted in brains that are wired differently than most others in the population. Shannon and I talk about the misunderstandings, stigma and isolation that accompanies a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia, Epilepsy and a host of other “hidden” neurological differences that affect every area of a person’s--and a family’s--life.

People with hidden disabilities work and play and live all around us, and we sometimes behave toward them in callous and impatient ways. Sometimes that’s because we are unaware, yes, but I’m guessing that it is also true that sometimes it’s because we are, by nature, pretty self-focused. Shannon challenges the church in this regard, asking us to “pause and pray . . . and ask God to give us the mind and heart to respond as He would respond.” People who follow Jesus Christ are, in fact, called His Body here on earth. He has a reason for that.

Even if I never meet another person with a hidden disability—but I will--I want to remember that I never know what another person is trying to manage in his or her life. Maybe it’s a hidden disability—maybe that mom is just trying to get through an especially trying day with her son who has Aspergers Syndrome, or that man is doing all he can just to avoid another seizure. Or maybe it’s not a hidden disability that is occupying all of that person’s energy. Maybe it’s the after-effects of chemotherapy, or grief at the loss of a grandparent. It’s likely that someone I’ll be talking with today will be dealing with something and I want to behave in accommodating and caring ways, but I so rarely do. May God give me the mind and heart to respond to each and every situation the way He responds.

To learn more about hidden disabilities, find support and read the blogs, connect with Chosen by logging on to


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 11.02.11 Teri Lyn commented

I have hidden disabilities and live daily trying to cover something up, maybe my unworthiness (or worthiness), I know with words that I am Gods' child: my body is only now learning (very reluctantly) to allow His Spirit to infiltrate into mine. I use just about anything I can to cover the dull sense that I'll never be able to live up to whatever anyone else (or my own self) can imagine I am. In my imagination there seems to be doom or failing coming from outside sources... Only in His Word can I find REST for my inside.

on 11.02.11 Martha Manikas-Foster commented

Teri, that's the challenge, isn't it? To feel what we know--that God made and loves each of us, and this includes the individual abilities and disabilities that other people may never see or know about.
May God bless you with His peace, Teri, and with a certainty of His great love for you.

on 11.02.11 Kathy commented

Thank you for being proactive to bring awareness to this issue in the Christian community. You are a voice for those who often do not know how to advocate for themselves. As a mom of a son with Asperger's Syndrome, I have unfortunately found the church to be one of the hardest environments for him, and for us as a family. Judgment for his erratic behaviors and for his inability to be still or socialize like other children has kept families like ours at home on Sunday morning. It is refreshing to see Christians as champions of the disabled, rather than their judge and jury. Lord bless!

on 11.02.11 Justina K commented

Thank you for bringing this issue up!

Personally, I've had people call me unsaved, demon possessed or that I don't have enough faith because I have psychotic episodes (I'm schizophrenic).

Which is upsetting is that there is less grace from my bible believing church family than unbelievers.

on 11.03.11 Teri Lyn commented

The Word of God is Living and Active, sharper that any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods' sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

HEBREWS 4: 12-13

And only Him!

Not that we are not concerned with what anyone or everyone sees in us, we want them to see our best friend our refuge through the storm...

on 11.07.11 Mark commented

Everyone has one or more disabilities, the difference is how noticeable it is. My semi-transparent disability is Bipolar Disorder aka Manic Depressive.

Common statistics say that possibly up to 10% of the general population is bipolar whereas medical professionals will tell you it's closer to 40%!

It's a debilitating disease of the brain and difficult to diagnose for two reasons: 1. There are no tests to confirm it, 2. Other neurological diseases have common symptoms. Without testing it's not uncommon to be misdiagnosed. Diagnosis is often incorrect as later on in life, other symptoms appear that are unique to another disease. Example: A relative was diagnosed as Bipolar over 10 years ago, 4 years ago a neurologist stated in was incorrect and the patient had Parkinson's. (Parkinsons and Bipolar have common symptoms, the unique Parkinsons symptoms were suppressed during the first diagnosis)

The biggest challenge is living day to day and being misinterpreted by others. Those that do not understand it think that "we" are schizophrenic. The two are related but they are NOT the same! Schizophrenia is difficult at best to treat effectively while Bipolar can be controlled quite easily. Bipolar does not affect my intelligence or creativity, it does affect the way I act and think from time to time.

Articulating this to others is extremely challenging. Insurance companies don't understand it and routinely include it with the definition of schizophrenia which exempts them from providing certain types of coverage and will give them license to charge extraordinarily high premiums.

Employers don't understand and most often don't WANT to understand. They know that disabled persons must be "accommodated" and yet it's difficult to know exactly how to accommodate someone with Bipolar. No two patients are them same, therefore requiring different types of accommodation and often conditions change. That makes employers nervous who only see it as a potential liability. This is a huge challenge for someone seeking work - if they tell the prospective employer about the disability, they likely won't be hired, if the employer finds out later, they can be dismissed for just cause (ie the employee lied on the application about their health condition when hired.)

The most important control that someone with bipolar can have is a personal support group...friends and family that stand around them, make an effort to understand them, defend them! (I find it ironic and annoying that we must ask to be defended...cancer and heart patients don't need it!)

I will concur with other writers that have commented that having access to a reliable support network is rare. I have articulated my issues with friends, it hasn't done much good. Few friends stand around me and those that I knew at local churches I attended have all but abandoned me when I made them aware of what I was dealing with.
When your church family refuses to understand and politely tells you to, "get over it", then everyone loses.

I am no longer an active part of a local church. For years I was known as a "workaholic" in the local churches I attended because I was able and willing to put in the time and effort to get things done that nobody else would do. Today? I'm a more, no less. I lose because I enjoy using my gift of helps in the church. The church loses because they are without another volunteer. The members of the church lose because they don't really want to understand something that is unlike any other kind of disease (ie cancer). They lose even further because one day someone close to them will be one of us and then they won't know how to respond. They had the chance.

Admittedly, I am bitter. Not a great Christian attitude but I won't hide the disease nor how it has affected me beyond the physical/emotional pain. I trust in the Lord and it is through His daily help that I know I'm still here. It would be so much better for me and others like me if we had people that really cared rather than offering their well intentioned but unqualified advice and giving lip service to being understanding.

The Church needs to do a better job of caring for those with neurological diseases.

on 11.07.11 Martha Manikas-Foster commented

Thank you, all of you, for your transparency as you talk about the reality of living with hidden disabilities. May our God of comfort comfort you each even when His Body does a less than adequate job of being His "hands and feet." May the church keep learning in this area, and may we, with the prodding and assistance of His Holy Spirit, become increasingly more responsive and loving.

on 11.08.11 Teri Lyn commented

The hardest part is getting over it myself, it's between My Lord, Jesus Christ, and me that's where the Church is. Here, now! He brings us together, He gets together with me first. I am in the world and I choose to make Him first in my life. It's a moment by moment realization when I also choose to relinquish control of me altogether, my mortal body is in constant turmoil...

on 11.08.11 Teri Lyn commented

It's only when I accept the fact that He is in control of every minute detail, that He finds me!




Inside Out airs Wednesdays at 12:20pm EST during the Family Life Noon Report.


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