It is really easy to dismiss anything we cannot see. It’s something we as humans do often, whether we realise it or not. As an atheist, one of my biggest reasons for not believing in any gods is that I can’t see them. But that alone isn’t enough. I also can’t sense them in any other way. No piece of equipment will allow me to sense a god. But what about the things we can sense with the help of technology? Mental illnesses and developmental disabilities are often dismissed because we can’t see them. At least, we can’t see them without the help of technology or other processes. Those of us who live with the issues notice them. We can see them in the way that others respond to things that are so normal to most people yet so strange to us. But the average person seems blind to the things that are so obvious to me.
Take ADHD for example: so many people argue that ADHD isn’t real. That it’s just adults not letting kids be kids. This is probably true in some cases. Many adults do seem to be under the impression that children are to be sen and not heard. But that doesn’t mean that ADHD doesn’t exist. I wasn’t even diagnosed until shortly after my 27th birthday. But I can see, and have always seen, how my hyper-activity level is higher than most. Anybody who has seen someone with ADHD knows how their behaviour is different from most. The problem is, the average person doesn’t know what they are seeing. I’m hyper-active, but not all people with ADHD are. For those who are interested in learning more about ADHD, here is a great link that lists the common symptoms: http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-symptoms.
For me, I’m pretty stereotypical as far as ADHD goes. Like I said, I’m hyper-active. I struggle to sit still for long periods of time, I like to move, heck, I still like to climb things. I pretty much have the activity level of the average 10 year old rather than someone who is nearly middle age. I also struggle to pay attention and often lose focus and daydream. Basically, the “Squirrel!” joke is aimed at people with my type of ADHD. But I still didn’t even consider ADHD as a possibility until about a year ago. I knew three boys with different types and degrees of ADHD. Two of them were a lot like me. But they were boys. I may be genderqueer, but most people still read me as a girl (or a woman depending on how proper they want to be). To most people, that means I can’t have ADHD, or, at least, I have a low chance of having it. It didn’t matter that my teacher saw how I behaved next to the kid that already had the ADHD diagnosis. It didn’t matter that I struggled to sit still and pay attention. It didn’t matter that all of my books were covered in doodles and I spent more time looking out the window than at the board. I was a girl. Girls can’t have ADHD. So I never considered it for myself. After all, if I had ADHD, wouldn’t somebody have noticed?
But people don’t notice. I had to be the one to pay attention, because I was the one who was struggling. I had to notice that my anxiety didn’t seem to fit the patterns of anxiety of those around me. I’m socially awkward, but don’t have the symptoms of social anxiety. I had to be the one who thought that may mean autism. Even my doctor and therapist thought I must “just” have social anxiety. It didn’t matter that my “social anxiety” didn’t fit with how social anxiety tends to work. I don’t like being surrounded by people, I get uncomfortable, but I don’t seem to feel the need to socialize that people with social anxiety tend to feel. I don’t desire human company very often. In fact, I rarely ever think about it. But nobody took notice of that. They labelled me as shy without noticing my lack of interest. They also tend not to notice the actual symptoms of my anxiety. They don’t notice when I shut down. They don’t notice when the noise gets too much. They assume I’m just quiet or disinterested, they assume I’m being rude. In short, they ignored the symptoms in order to see what they wanted to see. And that makes it so much easier to deny the existence of something a person doesn’t experience themself. They can just say I’m rude or lazy, or simply shy, rather than accepting what I struggle with.
All of the things that nobody saw drive me towards wanting to teach. It is so difficult for kids to describe what is bothering them. They throw fits because they don’t necessarily have the words to describe how they feel. But adults often just assume that the fits are a result of a lack of discipline or from the child being spoiled. They tend not to consider other factors. I don’t know how good a teacher I’ll be. I certainly don’t fit the type of person who goes into teaching. But I want to see what others won’t bother looking for. I want to prevent kids from falling through the cracks like I did. Because life is much easier when you can identify the things you struggle with. Once you can identify those things, it becomes possible to find ways to cope, however that tends to look for that person.