Thursday, May 30, 2019

Hidden in plain sight: Invisible pre-existing disabilities among older adults

[Note:  Some of my (I hope) readers may think that this post sounds familiar.  That's because I occasionally discuss issues with other people when I'm thinking of writing a blog post about those issues.  I'm simply swiping some of the wording that I used in a recent conversation.]

Perhaps this phenomenon is well-known among mental-health professionals, but I've never either seen or heard it discussed among laypeople, so let me start this conversation.

Back in the "Dark Ages" before roughly the 1960s, certain disabilities were either:
~ unknown
~ misunderstood
~ not assessed/evaluated
~ not diagnosed, or incorrectly diagnosed
~ not treated, or not treated in an appropriate or effective manner
~ not ameliorated through special education, which, even in places where it existed, was almost never publicly-funded--parents who wanted their "challenged" child educated often had to pay for the "privilege" out of their own pockets.

The result is that there are probably hundreds of thousands of older adults with invisible disabilities dating back to childhood who've never received any help whatsoever with their disabilities, and who've spent most of their lives simply coping.

The following list of examples is far from exhaustive, but illustrates situations that I have seen with my own eyes in people over the age of 60.

Some people have no idea whatsoever that they're any different from anyone with more "typical" development.  This ignorance can be far from blissful.  A person with Executive Function Disorder may have so much trouble organizing financial records and keeping track of money that they end up destitute.

Some people have a pretty good idea what their challenge is, but figured this out so late in life that they were long ensconced in a career that was totally inappropriate for a person with their disability, and have simply had to cope with their situation, unaided, for the last forty or more years.  Good luck trying to do a job that requires one to sit all day when one has had ADHD from birth.  :(

Some people are well aware that they're "not playing with a full deck" in some regards, and have tried to compensate as best they can, but they don't have a name for their disability (High-Functioning ASD?  Social Communication Disorder?) and have no idea how to treat it, or whether it's even treatable at such a late age.  After all, no one is going to write an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for a senior citizen and put them back into pre-school to get the help they missed out on as a child.

To mental-health professionals and laypeople alike,

Progress is about more than going from a manual typewriter to a computer the size of an entire room to a computer that you can hold in one hand and use to send texts.  Progress is also about advancements in our understanding of the development and functioning of the human brain and body.  Older adults were just born too soon to benefit from this form of progress.  So the next time you meet a senior who seems to be clueless about their invisible disability and/or how to compensate for it, please don't hold it against them, and don't assume that their problems result from advancing age.  This cluelessness isn't necessarily a result of getting older--it may be simply the result of seniors not having been helped when they were children.


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