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The Invisible Child

How do you feel when you see a child with a physical disability, or one suffering from a serious illness or developmental disability?

You may have a natural emotional reaction and feel sad or sympathetic. You might look for a way to help — perhaps with a donation or a word of encouragement. Seeing that child and his or her disabilities really makes an impact on you.

But what if a child has a severe disability that you can’t see? What if you can’t hear their suffering or cries of pain? This is the paradox of the Invisible Child. The Invisible Child is the child or adolescent who suffers from emotional pain that is not easily seen.

The Invisible Child often has no obvious external physical signs of illness, disability or impairment. Their pain may be caused by trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence. Or it may be the result of a natural disaster, an accident or chronic environmental stressors.

The Invisible Child may be depressed, anxious or frightened and intimidated by bullying. But unlike the child with physical or intellectual impairments, we can’t see their problem; they are often invisible to us.

So how can we spot the Invisible Child’s pain? One way is to learn about the signs and symptoms of common children’s mental health concerns.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Mood Changes (e.g., feelings of sadness or withdrawal)
  • Intense Feelings (e.g., overwhelming fear)
  • Behavior Changes (e.g., changes in personality; dangerous or out-of-control behavior)
  • Difficulty Concentrating (e.g., trouble focusing or sitting still)
  • Unexplained Weight Loss (e.g., loss of appetite, frequent vomiting)
  • Physical Self-Harm (e.g., cutting or burning self, suicidal thoughts)
  • Substance Abuse (e.g., drugs or alcohol)

Many children don’t get the help they need because their symptoms are invisible to us. Now that you know the things to look for, you can help bring the Invisible Child into sight.