Describing a disability, disease or disorder to someone who doesn’t understand it can be tricky — particularly if the condition isn’t common or visible. Overly scientific descriptions aren’t usually easily understood and ignoring the topic entirely isn’t an option. So, what is a good way to describe a disability to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

To learn more about the tactics people use to describe disability, we turned to the people who do it every day. The Mighty asked our readers on Facebook to share how they describe their own or a loved one’s disability to people who don’t understand it. The responses we received were informative, creative and incredibly helpful.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “My daughter has dyspraxia, which is poor motor planning because of slow neural transmissions. I describe her to others as being a super-computer with a dial-up modem.” — Stephanie Bruttig Brander

2. “I explained [my] cerebral palsy like this: ‘When you go out and play in the snow, come inside and can hardly move because your body is so stiff because of the cold? That’s how I am 24/7.'” — Desiree Ferguson

3. “My son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I tell folks to imagine their messiest bedroom and being told they had to keep it messy 24/7 and be productive. That’s how my son feels when people tell him he ‘just needs to be organized.'” — Amy Jones 

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4. “My son has autism. I tell people the best way to describe what my son deals with daily is to imagine being in a foreign country. You do not speak their language, they do not speak your language and you can’t communicate your needs to get help. You’re lost, hungry, thirsty, etc… How frustrated would you be? I believe this is a great visual aid for others to understand.” — Theresa Angrisano 

5. “To explain my mom’s schizophrenia, I told the children in the family that [she] had more things going on in her brain than most people. If they didn’t understand what she told them to do, then they should go to another grown-up right then. It made sure that the child didn’t disrespect [my mom] by ignoring her.” — Jean Dial-Teague

6. “We say our daughter has cerebral palsy. Then we ask the person to flex their muscles and imagine having to hold the flex position for 18 hours. When we get the normal response, ‘Oh, that’s hard and would hurt,’ we say, ‘That’s what it’s like for our daughter.'” — Deirdre McDaniel 

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7. “I explain that having systemic scleroderma is like having a vat of concrete poured into your veins, skin, and organs. Eventually everything becomes so hard to move that you are paralyzed and everything shuts down. You slowly turn into a living statue.” — Chanel White

8. “[I explain it] with truth. My son has many scars from multiple surgeries. He is 6 years old and we always discuss his health, scars and disabilities with honesty. I prefer questions rather than stares or shooing people away.” — Jenn Budd

9. “I’ve told people to imagine, ‘If your lips were superglued and you couldn’t get anything out that you were thinking about, wouldn’t that frustrate you as well?” — Jimalea Jones

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10. “For many years when people would ask what was wrong with our son, my wife and I would just say it was cerebral palsy and get it over with. It’s only been over the last year that we truly explain David’s condition of holoprosencephaly. Big words normally scare most people away, but those who truly want to learn will listen while we explain his brain developed differently than ours. We actually look forward to those questions now and the chance to educate others in our area.” — Bill Best 

11. “It’s like being blind and just when you just get to where you know the layout of a room and are comfortable with it, someone comes in and moves the furniture around. That’s the mind of a child with ADHD and cognitive disorders.” — Jeannetta Harris 

12. “You know how there are stressors in your life that make you nervous or anxious? Those situations make [my son] feel like the world is caving in and he has no control over his behavior because he is tapped out.” — Kimberly Konig Marley

13. “I have single-sided deafness of unspecified origin. My description of it? It’s like living in a wind tunnel with F-18 airplanes flying overhead 24/7.” — Donna Allgood Kuchem

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14. “My sons are both undiagnosed. They have global physical and cognitive delays and are nonverbal, but they understand way more than people assume. I usually explain to children that they are just like everyone else but their bodies work differently and they use an iPad to communicate, which most kids find very cool.” — Anna Siderakis-Karounos 

15. “I have Tourette syndrome, and when I describe my tics to people who aren’t familiar or who only know what they’ve seen in the media, I tell them having a tic is like a sneeze. You can’t always keep it in, and more often than not, if you suppress it, it will come back later with a vengeance. Most people tend to get a grasp on Tourette’s that way, because everyone sneezes and knows what that feels like.” — Lauren Elaine Childress

16. “My little brother once asked, at 3 years old, why he didn’t have crutches like me. I told him, ‘Because my legs aren’t as strong as yours, but that’s OK.’ He accepted that and had a simple, positive explanation to take forward with him.” — Tonia Says 

17. “My son has apraxia, which I explain [like this]: ‘It’s like a marble in a drain. Sometimes the water can pass, other times it gets stuck.’ His speech processing is exactly like that.” — Sherry Mitchell 

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18. “I have depression and anxiety disorders. I [explain it] like this: Depression and anxiety are teammates and I’m the opposing team. Their one and only goal is to drag me down. They make me paranoid, they make me feel useless and they steal all of my energy and motivation. However, sometimes, they go on vacation. I never know how long the vacation will last, but I get stuff done while they’re away, because I never know when they’ll come back.” — Sarah Cecilia Flanigan

19. “I had to explain [my daughter’s seizures] to her 1st grade class after she had one at school. I explained like this: ‘[My daughter] has something special about her. Her brain has seizures, or, like her brother calls it, ‘her shakes.’ She is what we call epileptic. I know it’s scary, but when she has her shakes, it’s important to stay calm and go get an adult so they can help her. If you can’t find an adult, get her brother, he’ll know just what to do.’ Then, we began our conversation of what our siblings help us do and why being a ‘helping friend’ is so important.” — Crystal Wright

20. “This is how my daughter describes her sister with autism: ‘It’s like we all have a red power cord, and her cord is blue. She’s just wired differently, but she functions just fine.'” — Julie Preston Bean 

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21. “I tell people who ask about my son’s multiple conditions that he was in such a hurry to see the world he showed up a little early. He has some issues but he is awesome and happy and that’s what matters.” — Jessica Hirschenhofer 

22. “[Living with depression] is like treading water and never reaching land.” — Barbara Winthrop 

23. “We usually say something like, ‘[Our daughter] has Rett syndrome. It’s a rare neurological disorder caused by a genetic mutation which makes it hard for her to use her hands and legs properly. Sometimes her hands do things she doesn’t want them to do. She can’t speak, but she can hear you just fine and she is very smart!'” — Grace Fox 

24. “[I explain my son’s] Down syndrome to the kids at his school by using an example they can relate to. I came up with the concept of two bears made out of Legos that are very similar, but with one difference — an extra chromosome or an extra ‘lego-peg.'” — Ingrid Muschta 

DM 7

25. “[My adult son has] severe social anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette syndrome and is on the autism spectrum. When he was working I explained [his anxiety] to his supervisors as follows: ‘Imagine you are terrified of spiders. When you get to work, you have to wade through a giant pit of spiders. When you get to your desk, you think of nothing other then the fact that you must pass through the pit of spiders on your way home. Once home, you obsess about the fact that you have to go back tomorrow.'” — Wanda McCallin Oleson

26. “Our son is visually impaired. He has underdeveloped retinas, nystagmus and poor vision. The way I explain his nystagmus is imagine seeing everything as if it were a flip book and the only way for the images to be clear is to hold your head in a certain position. His brain then takes those images and smooths them out. So he takes longer sometimes when concentrating on things.” — Lara Young

27. “My son’s left hand never developed properly. It’s called symbrachydactly. We tell people (kids especially) that he’s got a ‘lucky fin’ just like Nemo in ‘Finding Nemo.’ There’s nothing he can’t do; it just looks a little different.” — Jamie Brenner Ponce

DM 8

28. “I’m a paraplegic due to transverse myelitis, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the spinal cord. I relate it to a cat chewing on computer cables, damaging the insulation around the wires inside. My immune system has damaged the insulation around the nerve fibers in one particular place on my spinal cord, and without that insulation, the nerves can’t carry the signals properly.” — Elizabeth Churay Matherne

29. “I explain my son’s high functioning autism as something [that] enables him to do things most 5-year-olds can’t, like play checkers for an hour, have discussions about the civil and revolutionary wars and explain friction to his 3-year-old brother. My kid wouldn’t be the cool, inquisitive, patient child he is without his ‘disability.'” —  Rebecca Silvern Roberts

DM 9

*Some responses have been shortened and/or edited. 

How do you explain you or a loved one’s disability or disorder? Let us know in the comments below. 

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It’s a different take on “everyone poops,” and it has to do with your brain.

In fact, Mark Freeman’s YouTube channel is all about brains — your brain, my brain, your mom’s brain and your neighbor’s brain. The basic concept: everyone has a brain. How are you going to take care of yours?

In one particular video, he suggests pooping.

“Brains need to poo, too,” he says in the video above. “Your cognitive digestive system works a lot like your nutritional digestive system. You’ve got to keep a great flow of things coming in and things going out.”

He compares keeping a mental illness or an issue hidden from others to that feeling of really having to go to the bathroom. You may be functioning and momentarily distracting yourself, but that feeling isn’t going to go away until you… well, relieve yourself.

And there’s science behind it, too. In the video, he cites a study called, “Physical Burdens of Secrecy.” According to the study, keeping a secret actually makes you feel like life, and even everyday tasks, are more difficult.

So, Freeman encourages people to open up about their mental illness. As he puts it, “mental constipation is not cool.”

The video above is a few years old, but Freeman updates his channel frequently with great information about understanding your brain. Much of the content is related to obsessive compulsive disorder.

In the move recent video below, Freeman compares having a mental illness to drowning.

“You can’t think yourself into swimming any more than you can think yourself into being healthy,” he says in the video above. “Both take action and practice and a lot of hard work.”

Check out more of Freeman’s channel for more helpful, easy to digest information about mental health. Just don’t get your metaphors confused and poo in the pool.


Kindergarten is a huge change for all children, but it can be even more difficult for those on the autism spectrum. Getting my son to school for the first half of the year was a feat in itself. Each morning, he experienced panic attacks and meltdowns before we even reached the car. By the time we got to school, I would have to hold his hand to his classroom. When we reached his classroom, I would spend a good 10 to 20 minutes calming him down until he felt comfortable enough to join the rest of his class. When he got home each day, he would spend hours crying or would be filled with anger.

I would have lunch with him each day, so it would give him something to look forward to at the half-way point of his day. Also, it gave me a chance to be in my “mom detective mode” to see if there was something going on that I was missing.

He seemed to get along fine with his fellow classmates, and after many conversations with all of his teachers, I was at a standstill. Services for autism in our area outside of his school are hard to come by, so when I found a new behavioral therapist within ten minutes of my home who specialized in autism, I was excited.

After working with my son for a period of time, the therapist thought he was working so hard on controlling his emotions at school that he would quite literally blow up at home because that’s where he felt the most comfortable. It made sense.

Over the next few months, I had tried everything with my son to help ease his anxiety. I bought weighted blankets, vests, an abundance of sensory toys and we even did kid yoga twice a day. I joined online support groups, in-person support groups and even brought him to the doctor to see if medication would be a good option for him.

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After Christmas break, I was surprised to see him return from school one day in January with a big smile on his face. I didn’t even question it right away until a week later when my son started talking about high-fives with a teacher. The next morning when I brought him to school, he had a little bit of a swag to his step. And when we passed a classroom with a teacher from a different grade level, my son stopped and gave Mr. T a big high-five. He still wanted me to walk with him to his classroom and do our normal breathing exercises, but that’s all slowly changed over the last five months of school.

Each day, he would come home and would immediately say Mr. T gave him a high-five again today or Mr. T said hi to him. It would later change to he gave Mr. T a high-five and a hug today. The high-fives didn’t cure my sons anxiety, but it gave him something to look forward to, which is so important when so many decisions are taken away from our kids.

For the rest of the school year, his high-fives with Mr. T were always the biggest highlight of his day. And very slowly, my son needed me less and less. By May, he didn’t need me to walk past the front of the school with him, and on some days, he even asked to take the bus.

The best acts of kindness are when someone doesn’t even know they’re doing something that affects someone’s life. They’re just doing it because. My son had no previous interactions with this teacher, but for whatever reason, he was comfortable with him when he almost always has a hard time interacting with people he doesn’t know well.

Always take the time to smile or give a high-five. You very well could be the one to help put a little swag in someone else’s step. Thank you Mr. T for unknowingly giving my son something to look forward to each day.


I’ve learned a lot having a child with special needs. I have learned a lot about his many diagnoses — Phelan-McDermid syndrome and autism among them. I have also learned a lot about myself and other people. Sometimes my son’s presence brings out the good in other people and, unfortunately, sometimes the bad.

As he was growing up, we heard it all: “Why does he walk funny?” and “You need to teach him some manners.” But two negative moments in particular stick in my mind.

When he was young, he had to wear glasses since he was diagnosed with myopia along with optic nerve hypoplasia. He also couldn’t sit up until he was 18 months old because his hypotonia or low muscle tone, so he would lie in the baby carriage while we made our way out and about.

Most of our outings in his first few months were to doctors or specialists to get tests, scans and bloodwork – you name it, he endured it! So it was nice for us to get out to the shops one day. I was looking at some books and turned back to the baby carriage to find a lady, pointing and laughing at my son and his glasses and gesturing her husband to come and look. Yes a grown woman did this! As I was only just starting my journey of motherhood — with the extra bonus of having a very special little boy with a disability — I was mortified. I rushed back to the car and came home in tears.

On another trip out, another grown woman walked past us, looked at my son in his glasses and remarked to her companion, “Did you see him? How ridiculous!” Again, she was referring to his glasses.

As we’ve gone along our journey together, I’ve learned to shrug it off. Of course, this is easier to do on some days than others. Maybe some people need to keep this old adage in mind: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

On the flip side, we also come across some lovely people in our travels.

We were waiting in the doctors’ waiting room at the end of the school holidays. My son can sometimes get in other people’s space, and I was in no mood to deal with people today. To minimize this, we went to the children’s area. He could also get a good view of the parking lot from there, since he loved watching cars and waving at people as they were coming and going.

He’s nonverbal so he makes his happy noises when he’s excited. We were in the play area by ourselves. There were big windows between us and the other patients, so he didn’t seem to be bothering anyone. We got a few quizzical looks and a few smiles.

When we finally got in to see the doctor, my son was as uncooperative as ever. I don’t blame him after years of being poked and prodded by every sort of medical specialist you can imagine!

Then we came out and to the reception desk to sort out our payment. The receptionist said, “Another patient gave me this to give to you. I’m not sure what it is.” I was a little worried as she handed me a folded note.

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The note read:

I wanted to give you a huge hug – you looked like you needed one.

Your son is a lovely young boy and I hope he brings lots of love + sunshine to your life.

Keep smiling –

an ASD Mum xx

“Is it OK?” asked the receptionist. “Yes, it is a lovely note,” I replied. I paid and went out to my car. I sat for a moment and read the note again with tears running down my face. It was the little lift I needed. And yes, he does bring lots of love and sunshine to my life! It was a beautiful gesture from someone who has been there.

Thank you “ASD Mum” for taking a little time out from your day and doing this small gesture to make another mom feel better.

Special needs moms really do have each others backs!


Bryan Carroll was diagnosed with leukemia last year and doctors say his prognosis isn’t good, Global News reported. The 7-year-old lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, and has to spend most of his time at home because he’s too sick to be around crowds of people.

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Because Bryan has to be home so much, Leanne Christie, a friend of the Carroll family, thought it would be nice if the whole family could enjoy some time outdoors together, CTV News reported. However, the Carroll family backyard was in disrepair.

So, Christie made some phone calls to family and friends. On Wednesday, July 29, about 50 people showed up at the Carroll residence ready to beautify the backyard. While the family was away on a day trip, volunteers laid new grass, installed a swing set, put in furniture and even bought new toys for Bryan so the family could enjoy their time together at home in the outdoors.

To come home to this – it’s fantastic,” Sean Carroll, Bryan’s father, told Global News. “My son — that’s what’s most important, and enjoying the time we have left with him.”

Watch the video below to see the renovations:

Visit the family’s GoFundMe Page for more information or to make a donation.  

h/t HuffPost Good News


A new children’s book could help kids better understand why their loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia act differently than they used to.

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Written by Julia Jarman and illustrated by Susan Varley, “Lovely Old Lion” tells the story of a young lion named Lenny and his grandpa, King Lion, who has Alzheimer’s disease. No longer the playful grandpa Lenny always loved to play with, King Lion forgets names, doesn’t remember the rules to games and seems less interested in Lenny altogether. Confused and sad about what’s happening to his grandpa, Lenny turns to his friends and his grandma for help. Together, they all help King Lion by reminding him of good times past and encouraging him to play with them even when his memory isn’t clear.

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Jarman, who lives in Bedfordshire, England, decided to write the book after a librarian friend told her there was a desperate need for books explaining dementia to children.

“So many children are feeling confused and upset because a grandparent is behaving oddly and even hurtfully, forgetting their names and not recognizing their faces,” Jarman told The Mighty in an email. “Many grandparents take such an active role these days, playing with grandchildren and helping with homework, so it’s very obvious when they stop.”

More than anything, Jarman wants children to understand that the changes in their loved ones due to Alzheimer’s disease are not their fault. She also hopes this book inspires young readers to do what they can to help, just as Lenny and his friends do for King Lion.

“They can’t cure dementia, but they can do something to make their [loved one] feel a bit better,” Jarman told The Mighty. “I just hope it does a little bit to help educate people and make them feel empowered to do something.”

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Lovely Old Lion” is currently available for preorder and will be downloadable for Kindle on August 6. The book will be released in print in September 2015. 

Photos courtesy of Anderson Press.

h/t Day Nurseries U.K.

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