The Invisible Disability: A Mental Health Crisis in Children


Not your child, right?

How could a child that has “everything” – a loving family, 3 hots and a cot of their own, opportunity, nurturing, camps, sports, ipad…blah, blah, blah…be depressed, have anxiety and think about hurting themselves? How is that possible?

When we adopted our youngest (now 11) she was 18th months old with a myriad of issues from nutrition to delayed speech. We enrolled her at a private Christian daycare where we found out at about 2 1/2 that her ears were fully occluded – she did hear barely at all for the first 2 years of her life. We had tubes placed and had her work with a speech therapist. We were told she had a language delay. We got her into an early intervention program, worked with a speech therapist and started on an IEP (individual education program). We tried anything and everything that would help her overcome and catch up. We thought we were making progress. We got through elementary school and she was doing well. There were the mood swings, the sulking, the refusal to talk and instead of just chalking it up to puberty we decided that over the summer we would get her a counselor to work with her to quell her anxiety about going to Middle school among other things.

…and then it happened. The shock and awe. Our beautiful, smart, athletic, kind girl had (Thank You GOD!) turned herself in to the school psychologist that she was thinking about hurting herself, that she didn’t want to live anymore. Everybody hated her, she didn’t deserve to be here. THE SHOCK. The numbness when you get a phone call from your husband from the ER and the recommendation was she needed inpatient intervention. WHAT!!??

Not my child, right?

Now, I know what you are thinking…”why are they sharing this?” Why are they putting their business out on the street?”

We are sharing our story because we want you to know:

  • Yes, I could be your “perfect” child
  • It is not your fault. Yes, your child that has everything, has that privileged life could have – GO AHEAD AND SAY IT OUT LOUD – a mental illness
  • Parents – you are not alone and don’t have to do it alone
  • Every situation is different – every child is different. The triggers/stressors that precipitated our child’s depression might be totally different that what is going on with yours: however…

So…what was going on with our daughter? Pull up a chair – this might take a minute.

Our Princess doesn’t just have a language delay, she actually has a Language Impairment Disability and it was only the years of intervention and attention that we got her that she wasn’t worse.

What is a Language Impairment Disability?

The developmental period known as adolescence is generally described as beginning at about 11–12 years of age and continuing until 18–21 years of age, depending on which theory of adolescent development is being used. During these years, considerable cognitive, physiological, emotional, social, and educational changes occur. Language changes too, and the changes in language are affected by and affect other areas of development. When an adolescent experiences a language impairment, whether the impairment is severe, or whether it is less severe so that the adolescent’s language is more likely to be shaky, the teenager is at risk for problems in all areas of development.

Much about adolescents with language disorders remains either unknown or empirically unvalidated, especially for those adolescents whose language problems exist in the absence of other conditions known to affect language, such as specific language impairment (SLI) with regard to preschoolers. This more limited information has some not so positive implications for those professionals trying to provide valid and accountable assessment and intervention services for these adolescents. Many adolescents with language disorders remain unidentified, unserved, underserved, and neglected.


A Neglected Group with Significant Problems

Socioemotional difficulties are a significant issue for adolescents with language disorders. Problems with social interactions and even socioemotional difficulties are associated with specific language impairment in preschool years and language-learning disabilities in the earlier school years.


There are some indications that these students have difficulties with emotion regulation, a psychosocial issue that could be expected to affect interpersonal relationships , as well as other evidence that has begun to document a decline in their self-esteem as they mature and progress in school. Along with the language disorder, these can persist across childhood and into adolescence. In fact, emotional, behavioral, or mental health issues, such as “mood disorders often escalate during or immediately after puberty”


I took the liberty to paraphrase and cut and paste directly from this source:



What are some of the signs of language disorders (this list goes up through high school students) I’ve highlighted some of the issues we had/have with our girl.

* Problems with speaking and listening:

• seems unable to follow verbal instructions
• reluctant to speak
• talkative, but talk contains little real substance
• tells stories badly
more grammatical errors than peers
• stereotypes - clichés and overuse of certain words and phrases. May use a lot of slang and swear words - vernacular language
problems explaining the whys and wherefores of things - can't put the complex grammar together
• only deal well with concrete and here-and-now matters. Abstract language and ideas are very problematic
taking a long time to respond; problems processing the information
shows word finding difficulties; uses lots of 'ums' searching for words, lots of fillers e.g. 'you know', 'its the, oh the, that, um', and non-specific words, e.g. 'thing', 'that', 'stuff'.
• doesn't follow jokes, puns, sarcasm, metaphors. Takes ambiguous language seriously
• says the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong tone of voice; can't hold a conversation following normal expectations
doesn't pick up non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions or gestures - doesn't know when people want to end a conversation or doesn't recognize the emotional content of people's talk.


Problems with school work:

• can't complete homework
• participation in class discussion is badly handled or non-existent
• has trouble gaining information from class lectures and from books
• following the rules of the classroom is inconsistent or does not understand them or the need to follow them
• poor at tests
• can't explain what the problem is, or give reasons and excuses for failure or behavior
• has trouble with the school routines - can't remember the timetable, loses the rooms, can't use a diary well. Poor at working independently
• concentration and attention appear poor


Behavioral Problems

poor self-esteem
• problems making and maintaining friendships
• lost motivation, cumulative sense of failure
depression, anger, frustration, withdrawal, aggression
• reluctance to participate, including in remedial work
• inappropriate coping mechanisms, e.g. bullying, clowning, copying (cheating), delinquency and truancy

( Sources: McKinley & Larson, 90; NSW Dept. School Ed, 89; Bashir, 89; Buttrill et al, 89.)


What was the diagnosis: Major Depressive Disorder with Anxiety; Language Impairment


What do we do now? Medication, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, School Counselors, Tutors…and ever watchful parents that will bring every resource & brain cell to bear to give our baby a fighting chance at an awesome life.


As for the Mental Health System – that is another blog post. It is abysmal – especially for children where treatment should begin but more often than not doesn’t and then they fall through the cracks to poor outcomes, incarceration, homelessness or dead. If it wasn’t for my “good” insurance and our complete understanding of our benefits and how the system works (there is 30+ years of medical/healthcare sales & management experience between Ron and I) we might not have had the positive outcome that we did. If it wasn’t for the Steptoe Clan that rallied – it was all hands on deck Tribal Council – and the tight group of Prayer Warriors we recruited in the first hours of crisis – Ron and I might have buckled. I imagine that Ron and I were a sight to behold. Ron with his armor on, calm and cool ready to do battle. Me, with my broom, fierce in the fight of taking no shit; give it to me straight.


I hope that sharing our story and being transparent helps is some small way if you, as a parent, are in the struggle.


It takes a village.