Might League Moms


Thursday, 20 June 2013

When is a disability not a disability?

Recently, I seem to have read quite a few things from people who state categorically that autism is NOT a disability. It kind of got me thinking, where do I stand on this? I know that I don't look at Caidan and think 'disabled.' But then I don't look at him and think 'autistic' either, but he is.

Many people have invisible disabilities. Mental illness, arthritis, fybromyalgia etc. But people can't tell just by looking at them. It seems that in order to be considered disabled, you have to have a physical disability, an obvious one. In fact at times, it appears that only those who use a wheelchair are considered disabled.

Well, I call bullshit on that. Any condition that prevents someone doing everything a person without any illness can do, has a condition that is disabling.  They are not able to do things others take for granted. Take my son for instance. Other 4 year olds, with no disability or invisible disorder, can take their own jackets off, put them back on, can eat with a fork, they are (mostly) toilet trained, they can tell you when they are hungry, they can tell you when they are thirsty, or when they are feeling ill, or when they don't want to do something or when the do want to do something. They can tell you if they want juice or milk, or what particular cereal they want or whether they want pizza or chicken nuggets. My son can do NONE of those things. Autism makes him NOT ABLE to do them. Therefore, it stands to reason that he is disabled, surely?
Now, I get and understand that many people with autism don't consider themselves disabled and that's fine. Many who are higher functioning and many with Asperger's, they can grow up, get a job, get married, have kids and put their own jackets on, so I guess I can see why they wouldn't consider themselves as disabled. They may have social difficulties and maybe some communication difficulties, but they can generally live an independent life. So yes, I get that they would be a bit miffed at being called disabled. But for many, many more people with autism, or mental illness or other invisible conditions, life isn't like that. They may be non verbal, they may need support for the rest of their lives, they may have no hope of living an independent life or getting married or getting a job or of ever putting their own jacket on. How can they NOT be considered disabled?
More to the point, why do some people see the word 'disabled' as an insult? Some of the most intelligent, inspiring people I know are disabled. It  is in no way an insult nor should it ever be taken to mean that someone is worthless or fit for the scrapheap. That is so far from the truth it can't be put into words. Disabled people have a spirit that is amazing. All the obstacles they have to overcome to do things others do easily. That takes strength, courage and commitment. In no way is the word disabled an insult to anyone.

There is far too much judgement goes on in this world. Far too much finger pointing without thinking. Next time you see someone walk out their car into the supermarket, don't automatically assume they are not disabled. Most likely, they have a blue badge, which is not easy to get, believe me. Chances are they have an invisible disability. So think before you judge. In fact, why judge at all? Everyone has a story and it's not always visible to everyone. Think first, think 'invisible disability.'
Think that one day, it might be you that someone is judging wrongly. Think how that would make YOU feel.


  1. Hi Laura. I think you're right, and any condition which causes you to have a greater difficulty in doing something than someone who doesn't have the condition, is by it's nature disabling. But learning disabilities are defined differently from learning difficulties by mental health charities.

    Take a look at www.mencap.org.uk/definition for example. Learning disabilities affect intellect, whilst learning difficulties do not. By that definition dyslexia, for example, is a learning difficulty, not a learning disability, because there's no reduced intellect and the condition can be managed effectively and/or overcome with treatment. A mental disability cannot.

    That's not to say of course that learning difficulties should be treated with any less understanding, or given any less support, than learning disabilities. The distinction is intended to provide a greater understanding of the underlying conditions, not to provide anyone with an excuse to ignore one in favour of the other. But I am wondering whether that might be why you've come across people saying that autism isn't a learning disability - because autism is a spectrum condition, at one end it can be something that's manageable, whilst at the other it can be so debilitating that it does in fact amount to a learning disability. It's one of those 'it depends' conditions.


    1. Thanks Marcus, I will check that out! It's not that I think autism is necessarily a learning disability, but a disability in general. It is a disabling condition for most who have it. I would love to think that your suggestion that maybe people don't see a learning difficulty in the same way as a learning disability is correct, but for the most part, it is actually just plain ignorance I am afraid!! I totally understand that learning difficulties and learning disabilities have different criteria, that's a very fair point and one I hadn't actually thought of, but autism especially (where my particular experience lies) is disabling in many ways and I just can't understand why anyone would be so adamant that it is not a disability. You can bet that many of these same people are claiming Disability Living Allowance for their children though... Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate the feedback and I will check out the MENCAP link

    2. Apologies, that SHOULD have said 'many of these people would be claiming disability allowance if it was their child.'

  2. Disability is natural. It can happen to anyone at anytime. So certainly should not been seen as an insult. But is perpetuated by the social model of disability.
    Our kids are also disabled by society.
    They get it from all angles.