Child Pain, Migraine, and Invisible Disability

Honeyman, Susan, E.  (2017)  Child Pain, Migraine, and Invisible Disability. Abingdon: Routledge. 208 pages, 15 B/W Illus, with appendix. GBP £110.00.

Reviewed by Dr Kimm Curran, University of Glasgow

Child Pain, Migraine, and Invisible Disability is a look into how invisible disability in children, especially related to chronic pain and migraine, has been treated in both medical and academic studies as well as how the public view child pain.  Honeyman seeks to address how children have been excluded from the wider discourse about experiences and treatment of chronic pain.  The author provides a child-centred, interdisciplinary approach to the subject, combining medical history, interviews, art and literary sources which has not yet been explored.

The book is divided into five chapters, each addressing a particular issue related to child pain and migraine: the historiography of the neglect of child pain; how child pain is misrepresented in literature, art, and films; a history of the treatment of migraines; a collection of experiences from children who have chronic pain to address stereotypes of children who experience chronic pain;  and, finally, the book provides new insight into how children express pain in art and comics which is termed by Honeyman as ‘visual activism’.

Chapter 1 provides us with the reason why child pain and migraine as an invisibility disability has been ignored. Migraine has been viewed as an ‘adult and woman’ problem; children are often portrayed as lying about illness and as chronic pain is ‘invisible’, migraines do not leave a ‘visible’ mark of suffering. Children with pain and migraine ‘meet the able-bodied standard’ and are viewed as such (21). Chapter 2 explores the history of child pain and the politics of regulation of pills or medicine for pain, primarily from the context of the United States. The theory of pain and how pain relief was used on children as a way to ‘silence’ or ‘control’ a child is also highlighted. Chapter 3 moves into the literary expression of migraine and how children are under-represented or ignored altogether; the author points out that child pain is less visible in fictional representations (75).

Chapter 4 and 5, as well as the afterword, move into the experiences of pain and migraines by children and their artistic expressions of pain through art and comics. The author interviews children to understand why they are often stereotyped and viewed as ‘faking’ their pain—both at school and at home.  Through this approach, Honeyman shows how children struggle to be heard and/or treated for pain and migraine because of the invisible nature of ‘suffering’.  The children in her study also comment how they wish to have more visible pain so it can be treated as ‘real’; some children choose to express this pain through comics and art as a coping mechanism and the author provides samples of these. The afterword can be read on its own, but in the context of the book it paints a vivid picture of pain and migraine and the real, lived experience of the sufferer; it was informative as well as poignant.

The author’s treatment of the subject is sympathetic, they alert the reader to their own experience with child pain and migraine which, in this reader’s opinion, gives us a well-argued and researched subject from the viewpoint of an adult who had suffered through child pain. The message to take away from the book is that children in pain deserve to be listened to in order for us to understand their pain and needs: better medical treatment, flexible school policies, and support.

Honeyman’s research is authoritative and ground-breaking and fits into current studies on disability, ableism and children’s experiences of pain and disability. This reader sees this work as an exemplary, democratizing the voices of child pain and disability; the ways in which this book uses a variety of approaches to show how the voices of children are misunderstood, marginalised, and ignored, is to be commended.   There is a hint of activism and powerful meaning behind this research; this reader found themselves wanting to take up the charge with the author to fight for the rights of children with pain and to find ways for their voices to be heard.

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