Archive for June, 2009

NLD and Barriers to Course Participation

June 23, 2009

By the time I’d reached first grade, I had been taught to observe relative silence in school.  Thus, I didn’t feel comfortable conversing and was terrified to ask questions or make comments.  I never knew where/when to speak up.  As life went on, I got terrified of speaking in class, which I now see as like public speaking.  And now I find myself holding back from asking questions due to these (at least for me) largely-NLD issues:

-Worrying that my question/comment is off-topic.

-Having trouble stringing together concepts into the form of an on-the-spot question.

-Confusion about what exactly I’m asking.

-Worrying that my question/comment may have overly-opinionated content (i.e., be too critical, or sound angry without me intending or realizing).

-Fact that, at least much of the time, I can’t project (“throw”) my voice and instead tend to speak in a very “indoor” voice.  (I studied solo voice once, but could never get my voice loud enough for a whole room to hear, plus now I’m very self-conscious about my speech-pattern issues, which makes speaking up even harder.)

I imagine myself proactively asking questions in front of a class, but doing it is completely different.  Also, I’m often too busy just copying stuff off the board, or doing computation, to ask a question in those less-than-ten-second windows.  Tomorrow if I’m not too exhausted, I’m going to try and stay after class so I can ask the professor some questions I will prepare in advance.  Hopefully this will help me feel more comfortable, but I can’t know for sure.  I’ve had many difficult experiences–more than not.  I’ve been passed up for jobs due to NLD, et cetera.  I feel like there should be a book called “Dealing with NLD in an NLD-Unfriendly World” or something. barriers


NLD and Environmental Confusion

June 23, 2009

In my two days of being back in school, I’ve had a chance to remember some of the issues I struggled with growing up, and still do as an adult student.  My class has about 30 people, and our professor is very experienced and focused on conceptual statistics.  Thankfully we don’t need to learn about statistical computer programs (plus, they don’t do much good if you don’t understand how to apply the concepts).  Also, computers are very conducive to distractability for me.  I use them for research, but also for fun–reading the news, celebrity gossip, watching re-runs, and of course checking email (and now blogging, obviously).  I need to look at the teacher 90% of the time to pick up whatever nonverbal cues I can.

Lately, NLD reminds me of two hypothetical situations.  The first is waking up in a surprise foreign country where you don’t speak the language, but have no choice except to stumble through broken words.  The second is giving someone with no musical training or acuity sheet music for a song they’ve never heard, and expecting them to perform it.  In both these situations, mistakes would be inevitable and common, but understandable.  I don’t feel this lost all the time, or in every situation, but I do feel lost often.  Unfortunately, NLD is misunderstood, even though our confusion is completely justified.

NLD and Math Anxiety

June 18, 2009

I could write at length about this topic, but I won’t just yet.  I won’t be online that much for the next month, because my required stats course begins in just 4 days.  I will have tutoring that the university provides free to all students, twice a week.  The course meets four days a week.  I must get a “C” or higher.  I’m still going to blog in the future, but not as much until this class ends in July.  I will respond to messages, too.  Thanks.

Article on girls and AS

June 10, 2009

I’m just reading this article in Newsweek, “Why Girls with Asperger Syndrome Might Not be Diagnosed” by Janeen Interlandi:

Some things that struck me are quoted or paraphrased in green, and my thoughts are blue:

AS presents itself “less obviously in girls . . . that factor is also causing them to slip through the diagnostic cracks . . .. Some specialists predict that as we diagnose more girls, our profile of the disorder as a whole will change. Anecdotally, they [specialists] report that girls with AS seem to have less motor impairment, a broader range of obsessive interests, and a strong desire to connect with others, despite their social impairment.” -I could see this turning out to be true, though with individual differences. Not that NLD and AS are identical, but I know of some NLD males who really want to connect with other people socially, too. I’d also want to know more about the “broader range of obsessive interests.” I suspect lots of individual variation on this issue, too. And also differences in how people perceive others’ interests (i.e., whether or not someone can tell if someone is or isn’t interested in a topic,et cetera). I’d like to learn about examples of the strong desire to connect with others, and compare/contrast with studies of NLD males and females of different ages, if possible.

Girls tend to be more focused on copying and imitating the behavior of others: “When social settings change, this can spell disaster. ‘As you move from high school to college, or from one group of friends to another, you have a whole new set of rules to learn,” said one Aspie woman who asked not to be named. ‘Not only do you lose your own identity, but if you end up surrounded by the wrong people—mimicking their behavior without understanding the motivations behind it can lead to big trouble.'”I agree very much. I’d add that this can be a problem in the workplace. Women with NLD or AS might not see the signs of workplace negativity upfront.  This may cause them to get manipulated by negatively-focused coworkers–and due to not being able to hide feelings and behaviors as easily–receive the consequences someone else should have gotten. Social pressure in general–whether from peers or older people–is often impossibly seductive to many with NLD (or related issues). Wanting to be included and accepted is a basic need. Even if a peer’s idea to do something is wrong, the accompanying illusion of acceptance is very hard to resist. It’s like trying to imagine saying no to being asked out by whomever your favorite movie star (or celebrity or person you most admire) is. This feeling doesn’t go away just because you become an adult. The desire for acceptance and meaningful relationships with others follows and haunts us at all ages.

According to Ami Klin, director of Yale’s autism research group, girls’ “desperation for human interaction–combined with their inability to gauge the intentions of those around them–can make girls with AS easy prey for sexual predators.”This message is an important one. I do think, though, that with guidance, mentoring, and appropriate social coaching, girls can learn the signs of manipulative behavior. When a girl with AS, NLD, or a related condition has a safe person to discuss concerns with, she can learn to build safety skills and stay away from difficult people. Of course, if someone isn’t diagnosed in the first place, this problem is a really horrible one. A good, if somewhat exagerrated, example occurs in the Hannibal sequel Red Dragon, where a blind scientist named Reba McClane (played by Emily Watson) who also may have some learning differences, is depressed and falls for a psychopath, nearly getting killed. Though I saw her vulnerability in the movie, I could see this happening to a younger version of myself. Sometimes in the past, I’ve overlooked signs of trouble because of wanting a relationship (both friendship and romantic–different poisons that appear to be pleasures until something bad happens) so much, then gotten hurt.

It is imperative that more studies on gender differences and learning conditions be completed. More on this as I learn more.

How does NLD differ from AS?

June 10, 2009

I just found a quick article that compares and contrasts NLD and AS on this site:

Basically, NLD and AS are similar in the following ways (I’m paraphrasing from the article below):
-right-hemisphere-based difficulties
-no delays in speech or cognitive development
-at least “average” IQ score
-trouble gaining social acceptance
-trouble reading some social cues
-being and feeling misunderstood

Differences between NLD and AS include the following (again, to paraphrase):
-NLDers are said to have normal emotions, but trouble expressing and reading nonverbal paralanguage, v. those with AS are said to restrict emotional responses and not display strong emotions and/or are more likely to have emotional reactions to specific topics rather than interpersonal ones
-individuals with AS tend to have highly specific/esoteric interest areas, v. those with NLD are less likely to have restricted interests
-individuals with AS sometimes have great talent for visual-spatial tasks, v. NLDers generally have great trouble with many visual-spatial skills

As the article says, “each syndrome possesses terrific attributes as well as great challenges.”

“Wrong Planet” Site

June 9, 2009

More than 27,000 people are members of the Wrong Planet web community, which provides online peer support to those with spectrum conditions, namely AS, but also ADD/ADHD, HAF, and (perhaps) newly NLD. Here’s the address:

Article: “Doctors are ‘failing to spot Asperger’s in girls'”

June 9, 2009

I just found an article on this site:, which appears in The Observer and is written by Amelia Hill.

I think it’s also relevant to NLD. Girls with social communication troubles are not being diagnosed early enough, or at all. Some AS/NLD gender similarities from the article follow, with article quotes in purple and my thoughts in blue:

Girls with undiagnosed AS may turn to “self-harm or anorexia”Though I didn’t have chronic struggles with anything besides normal teenage dieting, I could see how NLD issues could cause someone to develop anorexic thought patterns. Anorexia requires rigid thinking and uses rules. Plus girls may think it’s just a normal behavior that will presumably help them fit in, when in reality it’s very dangerous. Plenty of AS and NLD females have no trouble with eating issues, BTW. As for self-harm, I wonder if the self-harm habit may partly result from a) hypo-sensitivity to pain and b) untreated depression. I could see someone with NLD issues resorting to self-harm during their adolescent years, but more often, those with NLD are very positive-health-focused. I struggled with depression in my teens and had times of death ideation, but I never wanted to be dead or commit suicide. I also have little tolerance for pain or medical procedures, and am hypersensitive to pain, so would never self-harm even if depressed enough to contemplate. I’m even squeamish about tattoos and have never gotten one, though my ears were pierced in my teens to fit in. The holes close if I don’t wear earrings every day, and I hate even the sting of re-piercing with a safety pin. My medical condition requires routine blood tests, which I’m used to, but sometimes I cry afterwards; it’s mildly traumatic to have tubes of blood drawn by a stranger.

Dr. Judith Gould, Director of the National Autistic Society, says: “Girls are not being picked up because there is still a stereotyped view of what Asperger’s is, which is based entirely on how boys present with the condition,” she said. “Professionals are not up to speed in knowing how girls present. We are working with the government to ensure they highlight this concern in their upcoming consultation. We are hoping to convince them to target this much under-investigated but vitally important issue.”

-For instance (to parphrase the article), girls with social communication issues are more likely to find a small number of friends and pay more attention to social rules than boys.

-Girls, Tony Attwood says, learn to “observe from a distance and imitate people” and may “escape into fiction.”-When I was growing up, my favorite activity was reading books, though not fantasy or sci fi per se. I very much agree that as a kid, and now as an adult, I observe people from a distance and imitate them. I’d argue that this behavior is a survival adaptation.

I hope that in the future, adults will look more closely at childrens’ struggles and not hesitate to provide social guidance and meaningful, creative intervention. Too often, children with NLD are talked down to. And adults are left to figure out the impossible.

Yesterday I was thinking how even email can include communication anxiety. Calling is worse, but sometimes just sending something–perhaps due to the power I attach to words–feels like an emotionally-charged task. There’s such a need for an NLD community online. I hope this is the beginning of one. I think it is. 🙂

University of Michigan’s NLD article

June 8, 2009

For anyone reading this who may not know what NLD is, I found a website (updated in 2008) that provides a quick outline:

Just wanted to make sure this blog has a link to a medical description.

Having NLD and Dealing with Criticism

June 8, 2009

Criticism happens to everyone, but it’s more complicated when someone has a learning disorder like NLD.  First, we often have trouble reading nonverbal information, even if it’s just accepting a compliment or saying something funny.  Second, negative feedback is easier to deal with when you can respond to it on the spot.

Since NLD makes improvising really hard, sometimes we have to mull over the criticism, put together the pieces, check out the problem with someone else who understands our NLD issues, and then respond.  We go through all these steps in a state of doubt–did I say the wrong thing; was I wrong; what if I had done or not done xyz; how much credibility do I really have; did I get my point across; does so-and-so recognize my needs; did so-and-so consider my perspective; did I consider so-and-so’s perspective, et cetera.

As these and other questions swirl around, much of my confusion remains, I feel a keen sense of inertia (and being stuck), great stress, (sometimes) sadness, and frustration.  Then I ask myself the question many who are unaware of NLD ask: if I’m so smart, why do I keep having these slip-ups?

I tell myself to have compassion, and that mistakes are just ways to learn.  Still, NLD makes it all much harder.  Instead of clearing up things on the spot, I must wait until I can reflect (read: dwell) on an issue, and sometimes ask for a second opinion, before I know the best way to respond.  As I dwell, the problem feels worse than it is, and I worry unnecessarily.  I cannot overstate the importance of making sure all with NLD have safe outlets to vent to, like mentors who are social coaches.

Perhaps it’s common for people with NLD to have friends older than us because they tend to want to share their life experience.  I have a number of friends my age, but when a problem confuses me, I tend to ask my friends who are parents because having children sometimes results in great respect for learning differences.  I feel much older than my age due to my life’s difficulties.

NLD and the Complexities of Misperception

June 7, 2009

Social perception is, as we know, a two-way street. We put out signals and other people read them, and vice versa. Throw in NLD, and two large problems can develop. First, we with NLD have trouble reading social cues on the spot. Second, a person communicating with us may misinterpret our behavior and then respond based on the misunderstanding.

For instance, I often appear very nervous and very distressed-looking, when in reality, I’m not nervous or distressed. When I tell people I’m not nervous, they generally don’t believe this and keep asking me if I’m OK or why I seem apprehensive. Needless to say, it makes social interaction all the more awkward, as if it wasn’t already troublesome enough.

The best thing I can suggest to deal with this isn’t possible all the time, but here it is: use written communication as much as possible. Tell people about having NLD before you meet with them in writing. An earlier post has a sample work/school letter (search blog for “sample work/school letter”).