How to support someone with an invisible disability

Featured Articles

How to support someone with an invisible disability: a woman holding colostomy bag in right hand and with left hand showing scar after surgery.

"A lot of disabilities are invisible, your reaction to them isn’t.”

How to support someone with an invisible disability

Everyone is taught not to judge a book by its cover at a young age. Looks can always be deceiving, which is why you should judge or make assumptions in the first place. 

Everyone has their uphill battle, whether it be managing a chronic illnesscoping with undiagnosed chronic illness, or dealing with mental illness, but it could even go far beyond this. Some people struggle without anyone ever knowing it.

However, one important thing to note is that those with visible disabilities tend to get treated differently than those with invisible ones. Regardless of the disability, showing support needs to be put into place. So, how can you show support for those with invisible disabilities? Continue reading on to learn all about how.

What are invisible disabilities?

Invisible disabilities are those that are not visible to the naked eye. They may be physical, mental, or intellectual conditions that can impact one’s quality of life and ability to function in society. However, many other types of disabilities, such as deafness, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and mental illness conditions, can negatively impact someone's ability to function in society. This can even go as far as physical disabilities, such as Crohn's disease, that don’t appear visible.

Know what invisible disabilities are

Suppose you want to know how to support someone with a chronic illness or an invisible disability. In that case, whether it be a coworker, classmate, friend, family member, or whoever else, it’s essential to understand and grasp invisible disabilities. These are disabilities, and just because they can’t be seen like other disabilities doesn’t mean they’re less important or will less likely to need attention or treatment.

Recognize that you have a privilege

While many may not like the phrase “checking your privilege,” it’s essential to do so. 

Why? Because the invisible and weightless nature of privilege means that those who have privilege often fail to realize it.

So "checking your privilege" will help you become less judgmental of others and more understanding of the perspective of others. 

Many people who deal with invisible disabilities are getting harassed from time to time. Even something as small as parking in a disabled spot could cause harassment, and it’s only because someone can’t immediately see what the disability is.

"Able-Bodied Privilege - Much like other privileges, able-bodied privilege is the ability to physically participate in society because society was made to accommodate only the “dominant” group – people who are perceived to be able-bodied and not physically disabled. This effectively cuts disabled people out of society. In addition, this privilege invisibilizes and stigmatizes mental disability, which ostracizes and shames folks with mental disabilities and cuts support services from them."

Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois

Stop using the term “special needs”

One thing that plenty of disabled people find so uncomfortable is the term special needs or comments that they are getting special treatment because of their disability. 

Special needs is a phrase you’ve most likely heard a so many times. Special needs kids, special needs parents, special needs schools. The term is everywhere — but in recent years, the disability community has spoken out, asking people to stop saying “special needs” and calling for replacing this now-outdated language.

Disabled people have a disability caused by how society is organized rather than by a person's impairment or difference.

So, in general, stop saying 'special needs,' and stop saying disabled people need 'special treatment.'

"I am disabled by society due to my impairment. My needs are not 'special;' they are the same, human needs that everyone else has, and I should be able to fully participate in society just as much as the next person."

Lisette Torres-Gerald, Board Secretary for the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities.

Become a disability ally

Become an ally in your community and promote disability inclusion, which includes awareness of invisible disabilities and an understanding that there isn’t some “one-size-fits-all” for being disabled. 

It’s important to show your support and be an ally, whether volunteering for Disability Services or politely educating others. In general, be a good source, and be a part of the change that helps get invisible disabilities recognized.

Article by
Jessica White

Jessica White, the author of "How to support someone with an invisible disability," lives with a chronic neurological condition and is semi-retired.


"I am disabled by society due to my impairment. My needs are not 'special;' they are the same, human needs that everyone else has, and I should be able to fully participate in society just as much as the next person."