Hidden Disabilities

What are Hidden Disabilities?

Hidden disabilities refer to conditions that are not immediately apparent to others, as they may not have visible physical symptoms. These disabilities can affect a person's daily life, activities, and interactions, yet they may not be easily observable by others. Here's an overview of some common hidden disabilities:

1.    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person's ability to pay attention, control impulses, and manage energy levels. It may not be noticeable, but it can significantly impact one's focus and behavior.
2.    Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): ASD is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. Individuals with ASD may not display obvious signs, but they might struggle with social cues and communication.
3.    Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): Also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), CFS causes persistent fatigue that doesn't improve with rest. It's an invisible condition as there are no apparent physical signs, but it can greatly impact a person's ability to engage in daily activities.
4.    Fibromyalgia: This condition is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in specific areas of the body. It's not visible but can cause significant discomfort and affect daily functioning.
5.    Mental Health Conditions: Conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues are often hidden disabilities. The symptoms may not be immediately apparent, but they can have a profound impact on a person's emotional well-being and daily life.
6.    Chronic Pain Disorders: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or other chronic pain disorders may not be visible, but they cause persistent pain and can limit a person's ability to engage in various activities.
7.    Learning Disabilities: Conditions like dyslexia or ADHD are not apparent, but they can significantly affect a person's ability to acquire, process, and express information.
8.    Invisible Chronic Illnesses: Conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and certain autoimmune disorders may not have visible symptoms, but they can lead to chronic health challenges.

This list is not exhaustive, as there are many other hidden disabilities that individuals may experience. Hidden disabilities can vary widely, and each person's experience is unique.
It's important to note that individuals with hidden disabilities may face challenges that are not immediately obvious to others. Understanding and empathy play crucial roles in creating an inclusive and supportive environment for people with these conditions.

The Hidden Struggles of Students with Invisible Disabilities

NDSU provides students with opportunities for growth, learning, and self-discovery. However, for students with hidden disabilities, this learning experience can present unique challenges that are not always visible to the naked eye. Hidden disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety disorders, chronic medical conditions, PTSD, hearing disorders, vision disorders, and autism spectrum disorders, can significantly impact a student's academic experience. In higher education, students with hidden disabilities face often-overlooked struggles in their educational pursuits.

Limited Understanding and Awareness
One of the primary challenges for students with hidden disabilities is the lack of understanding and awareness among peers, faculty, and staff. Unlike visible disabilities, hidden disabilities are not immediately apparent, leading to misconceptions and judgments. Students may feel isolated and struggle to communicate their needs, leading to a sense of alienation and frustration.

Academic Challenges
 Hidden disabilities can pose unique academic challenges, affecting a student's ability to process information, concentrate, or complete assignments in a traditional manner. For example, students with dyslexia may face difficulties with reading and writing, while those with ADHD may struggle with organization and time management. Chronic medical conditions may affect a student's ability to concentrate and engage in academic tasks for extended periods of time. These challenges can significantly impact academic performance.

Stigma and Self-Stigma 
The stigma associated with hidden disabilities can have a profound impact on a student's mental health. Students may internalize societal perceptions and develop self-stigma, feeling shame or embarrassment about their condition. This self-stigma can lead to a reluctance to seek support or accommodations, further exacerbating the challenges faced by these students.

Accessibility and Accommodations
While NDSU has made strides in providing accommodations for students with disabilities, challenges persist. Students with hidden disabilities may feel reluctant to seek out the Center for Accessibility and Disability Resources to seek accommodations, such as extended time on exams, note-taking assistance, or quiet spaces for concentration. A lack of awareness and communication about available supports on campus can hinder the implementation of these essential supports. Students with hidden disabilities may doubt their eligibility for accommodations due to the lack of visible indicators, leading to self-questioning about the legitimacy of their needs. Societal misconceptions and stigmas surrounding hidden disabilities can contribute to the reluctance to seek accommodations, as students may feel their challenges are not perceived as significant. Fear of judgment and a desire to blend in with peers can also play a role, fostering an environment where disclosure is seen as a vulnerability.

Social Isolation
Navigating the social aspects of higher education can be particularly challenging for students with hidden disabilities. Social interactions, group projects, and networking events may pose difficulties for those dealing with anxiety disorders or social communication challenges. The fear of judgment or exclusion may lead to social withdrawal, hindering the overall college experience.

Mental Health Impact
The cumulative effect of these challenges can take a toll on the mental health of students with hidden disabilities. Anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy are common experiences. The pressure to conform to societal expectations, coupled with the academic demands, can be overwhelming at times.


It is crucial for NDSU to recognize and address the hidden struggles faced by students with disabilities. Increased awareness, proactive support systems, and a commitment to fostering an inclusive environment are essential steps in creating a more equitable educational experience for all. By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, we can work towards a NDSU culture that empowers every student to succeed, regardless of the visibility of their disabilities.

Why are we doing a hidden disability awareness campaign?

Promoting hidden disability awareness at NDSU is crucial for fostering inclusivity, reducing stigma, and supporting the diverse needs of our students. By raising awareness, the NDSU community can better understand the challenges faced by individuals with hidden disabilities, leading to the awareness and use of current support systems and resources. This campaign aligns with legal requirements for providing accommodations and creates an educational opportunity for the entire NDSU community, contributing to a positive and supportive campus culture. Additionally, the campaign encourages collaboration and networking among different departments and student groups, further strengthening the sense of community at NDSU.

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