Archive for April, 2009

Strengths are Key

April 26, 2009

I feel my best when I’m around people who know all the things I can do well. Who enjoy my talents and accept me as I am. Some of my contacts pathologize my different style of communication. It’s very common for people to make non-professional clinical observations about my speech. Unfortunately, my speech isn’t going to change. Speech prosody is more a function of neurology than vocal execution. I’m not a speech pathologist, but my therapist, a psychologist, works closely with them and said even with speech therapy, my speech wouldn’t improve that much. I’m lucky I don’t have it really bad, plus my writing compensates. I hope that someday soon, everyone with NLD–and our close friends and family–will list 5-10 of our talents. In a tough environment, strengths must be how we see ourselves first. That doesn’t mean not being aware of our weaknesses, it just means trusting in our abilities and embracing our individual merits. So every day, particularly for kids with NLD, (plus we are likely lovers of lists) we should make lists of one or all these things:
-Things I like about myself
-Things I do well
-Things I’ve done that I’m proud of.

The sooner we get to the empowerment stage, the happier we will be, and the more we can move on from anxiety and depression to a stage of celebrating life.

I didn’t learn these truths for many years, and now they serve me well, particularly as I identify helpful friends/relatives, and learn to experience joy. Depression is very hard, but it doesn’t have to be like this. NLD is not a death sentence. It is simply a specific learning disability, and by being who we are, we can greatly benefit ourselves and society. The trick is using our strengths each day.

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Getting to Un-Stuck

April 20, 2009

When you have NLD, it’s hard to unstick yourself from a social misunderstanding or conflict. NLD makes it hard to correctly read facial expressions and other cues on the spot. For these reasons, I almost always think of a good comment after a conversation ends. I get glued to emotions and memories in order to process them. Sometimes I get stuck. To me a conversation is rocky, like walking through mud or being on a boat. I misunderstand visual stimuli every day. To make up for it, I cling to rules. I got into this pattern of following rules. I still fall into it sometimes. I’d tell myself that if I just followed the rules, I’d be OK, and maybe appear normal.

But inevitably, people would point out areas to correct. I’m over-sensitive to criticism, and sometimes I feel stung. It’s a step up from a poke. More like a little jab. I have to nurse myself out of it in order to move on. This repair work is tough. To do it, I must recall the situation, take it apart, and put it back together. Minor problems clear up more easily, but major ones hurt, and this tough person is still working on it. I try to take out the constructive parts of a criticism, but it’s more work for me due to NLD. Sometimes stuck has to run its course before the repairing can begin. More on this later.

So Happy

April 18, 2009

My future profession is very disability-sensitive. I met with some of my future classmates and professors yesterday. I was definitely not the only person there with noticable signs of a learning disability. And someone told me her adult child has disability issues. I am very relieved, having had so many awful experiences in the past.

For instance, I often walk past a school where one of my old gym teachers still works. She’s really cool, very Pat Summitt and super-tough. Still, when I walk past, I remember that in grade school, I tripped over track hurdles three times. All those years ago, this gym teacher reminded me: when you fall off your bike, you just get on it again. I agree for the most part. But I also think it’s important to be selective about the types of exercise you participate in when you have NLD. What one excels at will vary. Some possibilities:

-In-line skating
-Bicycling
-Long-distance walking (maybe running, if inclined)
-Swimming
-Cross-country skiing
-Snowshoeing

Some sports are risky for NLD kids, though, like the more challenging activities. Exercise is a wonderful way of life if the participant does things they’re accustomed to.

I sometimes wish I’d played team sports, especially when I walk past a game and see what a great social-learning experience it can be. I was way too un-coordinated for most sports, though. I tripped over soccer balls, flunked life-guarding, simply could not ski down a hill, was predisposed to crashing sleds, reached an ice-skating plateau, once biked into a fallen tree trunk, and struggled with contact sports because of my spatial issues (i.e., I’d never be good at basketball, since you need to surround someone or be surrounded).

I grew up in a very sports-savvy family and community, where many people assumed I just didn’t like to exercise, which is untrue. Once I found my favorite forms of exercise (after many years of painful trial and error), things improved. Now I walk religiously and am addicted, but it’s usually an awesome time. I find it very helpful to never wear uncomfortable shoes, because I don’t drive and never know when I’ll need to walk somewhere. More later.

Sample Work/School Letter

April 17, 2009

Here’s a template for an “introducing myself as a person with NLD” note. Feel free to use.

Dear __________,
I am writing to confirm our meeting on ___. I also want to go over some features of my learning disability before we meet.

I have a “visual-spatial and social-comprehension” learning disability, known as Nonverbal Learning Disorder. This means I often have a less-fluid presentation, sometimes do not make much eye contact, and have a “distressed-looking,” somewhat “out-of-sync” outward appearance. My speech prosody also has some unusual cadences (i.e., a “halting quality”). I am aware of all these things even if I don’t directly acknowledge them.

Because NLD causes me to do things a bit differently, it is sometimes necessary to craft alternative sets of achievement goals.

Due to NLD, ____________ (list examples of work/school requirements that you feel anxious about) are generally areas of weakness, but ____________ (outline your talents; don’t be modest) are all strengths. My past supervisors and I had great success focusing on ____________. ADD MORE DETAILS AS NEEDED . . .

Thank you in advance for your time and attention. I look forward to meeting with you.

Sincerely,

The NLD Work or School Scene: Ongoing Stressors

April 17, 2009

Today I worked on a semi-new game plan, writing NLD-education notes to people I will work or study with. Really, “before-you-meet-me” notes. I briefly define NLD, discuss my strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to the situation, and outline things that have worked well in the past. I also warn that my outward appearance is a little different and that sometimes it’s necessary for evaluators to construct alternative goal plans. I hate asking for accommodations. I never know how much LD experience someone has, or their opinions. I went to a very large university where I was largely invisible. I could go through much of my day without stark NLD moments. But at this large school, I also didn’t get much practice explaining my NLD issues. Right now I feel drained. It took me forever to edit my email to my possible new supervisor. And it’s exhausting when I think about my outward appearance, how my face is sometimes very still, and my posture constricted. I’m slowly teaching myself to smile more, but it’s so much work.

So Many Thin Lines

April 16, 2009

Lately I’ve been thinking about how tough it is, as a person with NLD, to distinguish between being assertive and being overly defensive. Like other people with NLD I know, I can be stubborn. Not super-rigid, just loyal to my opinions, sometimes a bit excessively. Maybe I sometimes blur over-defensiveness with assertiveness because unless I hear the issue, (as the saying goes) I never know for sure. For instance, if I am developing a closer relationship with someone, I don’t allow myself to think of them entirely as a friend until they refer to the relationship as a friendship verbally. I know this reaction is a self-defensive one. Too often, I’ve wanted a friendship when someone else hasn’t felt the same way. To help prevent this from happening, I get more cautious about how I see relationships, even when it’s not necessary. Secondly, I had to fight to be understood as a kid. I was criticized for being a talkative child, so much so that I observed relative silence in school. I’ll get back to these issues later. For now, I just wanted to comment that sometimes I will appear defensive, when in effect, it’s just my way of thinking through a matter. More later.

I have NLD, therefore . . .

April 15, 2009

The following list of things are true for me:

-I don’t like it when sand sticks to my feet.

-I have mild-to-moderate social comprehension issues.

-I’m truly not good at math. It’s not a weakness I chose.

-Either I don’t show lots of emotion, or I wear my reactions on my face, both without fully knowing.

-High school was such hell for me I dropped out.

More later.

Outward Signs

April 15, 2009

I don’t like it when people use the phrase “come out” to describe the disclosure of an “invisible” “disability.” As many people observe, politely, less-politely, and sometimes insultingly, NLD is a semi-visible condition. Sometimes clinicians define NLD as a “disability,” but I take issue with the word “disability.” Too often, people wrongly assume that a learning disability makes a person “less bright” than someone without one. I am compelled to dispute this point, as an expert told me to have a learning disability, someone must be of at least average intelligence. I’m not sure I know what average means, but it probably has to do with being neurotypical, or somewhere in that zone. Returning to my original point, the phrase “come out” often implies the telling of a person’s sexual preference. Maybe I’m over-attaching a definition to this phrase. I know it can technically describe other attributes of identity. And yet I’d rather not think of it as a “coming out process.” I wish people would find more creative ways to discuss the existence of an LD issue. To me, the phrase “coming out” is reserved for conversations about sexual identity. Perhaps it is an NLD symptom that I have this literal take. At the same time, NLD is very difficult to describe to people I don’t know, and I would rather not deal with the added awkwardness of a phrase that is still finding its context in modern language.

Welcome, Readers!

April 15, 2009

I’m in a bit of posting heaven, having perhaps found my blogging niche.  I have so much to declare about NLD.  I am sworn to paragraphs, brief responses, and lists on this blog.  I’ll do my best not to be discursive.  But I have so many stories about life with NLD, and I want to disclose them.  I want the recently diagnosed and the struggling to have some support.  I want everyone to know a person with NLD has the potential for a very successful life.  Now is the time to discuss NLD and be greatly aware.  I hope you enjoy reading my blog as much as I enjoy writing it.  More later.

Being “Different”

April 15, 2009

I go out each day knowing I’ll stand out. That someone might ask me if I’m OK. Even though I don’t know them. That I’ll struggle to make eye contact, and have enough energy. That I may accidentally walk into something during my errands. That my speech patterns will have a different cadence than those of most people I see. That someone may ask me where I’m from, even though I’m a native English speaker with training in English language, literature, and writing. That a person hoping to spread a religious message or ask for donations is more likely to pick me than a more fluid person. That I may spend too much time walking around a store. That my gait is a little swayed. That I don’t have a super-expressive face or voice. That I may not “see” everything about what someone else, especially a stranger, is trying to get across. That someone may act like I’m a little kid, or slow, or both. And that I’ll forget something I was supposed to do, even if I have a list. Even though I’m very organized. All this happens in a day.