When the Caregiver is Out of Commission


“I don’t see anything wrong with that child.”

Give it 10 minutes; give it an hour. Take some time to be with “that child” or for that matter, “that adult” to be able to discern what makes them different and what it is about them where they excel and where they can’t quite make it in life.

So many disabilities, illnesses, and diseases are not “visible”. Children with mild disabilities may be regarded as trouble-makers because of their odd or poor behavior, but because they look “normal” in size and appearance and perhaps in some abilities, their needs may be tragically overlooked. Caregivers of people whose disabilities are masked have a much more difficult time persuading others (sometime including their families) that life is difficult because of their daily struggles.

Some may be high functioning in a particular topic but can’t figure out how to work a microwave or remote control. Some might know all about a subject in school that they find enjoyable to read about and talk about but would not be able to ride public transportation let alone drive a car; and something like balancing a check book would never be a possibility. One with ADD or ADHD may have various areas in which they excel, but can’t sit still, need to twirl, and otherwise “keep moving”!

This type of hidden disability challenge can range from a child with various special needs to the patient with dementia/Alzheimer’s. For us, 2 of our parents had dementia and guests would say, “Wow, they are doing great.” The problem? Guests visiting for 10 minutes to an hour don’t get the full value of care needed, behaviors that flare up, stories that are fabricated, etc. Caregivers know the fuller deal of the challenges while some observing might be whispering how terrible it is that they are in a “care” facility.

Although caring for one with hidden disabilities doesn’t make you a bad parent or caregiver, you may have difficulty convincing others (if you choose to do so) that something very real is hindering the health development, or well-being of the person you’re caring for. Such challenges as bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, even depression, do not always “show” themselves in a way that is obvious to others. Some people with special needs have one or more of these hidden disabilities, thus we must all learn to be patient with others and tolerant of things that seem out of place without an understanding of how to “fix” it as well as maintain a good listening ear so we can engage in the learning process.

The answer of how to deal with this dilemma isn’t easy, but as caregivers we can also be educators.

  • Let us show patience to the one who thinks they have the answers as well as to the one whose disability is hidden as they are trying to make it in life.
  • Even though it might be a challenge, we need to love others as we help them to see how they can better understand and even help. We are the mirror to reflect how to act and respond in loving ways.
  • And lastly, we must care. Care for our child or loved one who can’t speak up or care for themselves. Advocate however and wherever we can. Care for those who don’t care. Help them to see and learn as we have opportunity. There may be few and far between opportunities; but when they present themselves, we must be ready.

Ready, set, go! You can do it! Someone is counting on you!


Dr. Joe and Cindi Ferrini share their newest book: Love All-Ways: Embracing Marriage Together on the Special Needs Journey (order at www.cindiferrini.com). They are authors, speakers, and bloggers for several blogging sites on marriage, family and special needs. They spoke nationally for FamilyLife Weekend To Remember Marriage Get-a-Ways for 20 years, authored *Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course, and have been interviewed on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Janet Parshall at “In the Market”, Chris Brooks of “Equipped” and various other radio and television venues. Connect with them at:


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Joe and Cindi have been married since 1979, have 3 grown children, grandchildren, and enjoy speaking together on topics of marriage, parenting (including special needs), leadership, and time and life management. They have written articles and blogs for Focus on the Family, FamilyLife, Family Matters, and others. Together they authored: Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course. Cindi has written time management and organizational materials as well. They LOVE what they GET to do….

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