Archive for the ‘accommodations’ Category

New Approaches to Job-Searching

April 14, 2010

I’ve tried many strategies to search for work.  As I’ve said before, there’s a ton of roulette in the NLD spectrum job search process.  I’ve been to about 50 interviews, mostly for paid positions, but also some volunteer.  Though I continue to look for actual positions, I now market myself as a research and writing project specialist.  I do this primarily by sending out emails with my resume (that took me several hours to rewrite).

I have plenty of work now, but it’s all unpaid, in the academic sector, where I help professors with their research.  I love locating sources and use bibliographic software to ease the hair-splitting mechanical hell of creating a reference list.  The software helps, but I’m still training myself to be a better computer user.  So I have the unpaid stuff happening, but it really ebbs and flows.  It totally lacks structure, and usually it’s only one project that I do, then I have to find other ones.

Freelancing is tough to manage time-wise.  While I’ll work with it, what I want is a regular pay check and a permanent position.  I deserve these opportunities, but so far all I find are unpaid things.

Ever since I was a kid, I’d just plain worry about my homework and put it off.  It didn’t matter if I understood (many times I did except for math), because I just felt so consumed by general worries.  Today I got asked to do an interview for another unpaid opportunity.

This time I didn’t agree to do the interview right away.  Instead I asked the supervisor to please describe the position.  What I said (through email) is below.  Feel free to adapt it to your employment-searching needs (this gives me an excuse to check email, as it were). First, do your own introduction, then proceed:

I am hoping to find out the following:

Is this internship more on the “frontlines” or more “behind-the-scenes”?

I ask because I have a specific learning disability called [use the best words for how you see your diagnosis].  Someone meeting me will likely see signs of it [add your own words].  Despite this different external appearance, I have found that I do excellent applied work [briefly list your skill areas–research; editing; writing; et cetera].  I understand that the duties of many internships are more along the lines of being a hostess, receptionist or go-to person.  If these skills are what the internship would be centered on, than I probably would not be the best fit, but if it is more applied work, then I would welcome the honor of seeing about possible next steps.  Thank you in advance for your time and attention.

The Challenge of Identifying Emotions

July 28, 2009

Lately I’ve realized that many times I struggle to identify my own feelings, and even break them down.  If I could figure out a) what my feelings are, b) why I have them, and c) how to deal with a problem, I’d feel more in control of the things that happen in social situations.

Unfortunately, feelings happen very quickly, often before I understand why I’m having them.  Sometimes I catch on to other people’s feelings before I identify my own (a finding in contrast to much of the ASD literature).  I have an easier time picking up on other people’s feelings (though I’m not always right–far from it) because I see it as a more pressing requirement of social interaction (v. my feelings are always there whether I’m alone or in a group, and I tend to put identifying them on hold in favor of all else that’s going on; it’s totally a damage control thing).

In both instances (self or group), however, NLD skews and rearranges my perceptions (i.e., I tend to get less than 40% on the facial recognition tests).  It’s very frustrating, and explains why I like alone time best.  Here are some things that might help:

-“I feel” statements–every day in the home

-Ask child how he/she feels about a situation, and teach him/her names of major feelings

-Teach that there are degrees of feelings, and that they often occur with other feelings

-Teach that it’s OK to have feelings, but that we must deal with them in acceptable ways

A quick list of emotions, compiled by two emotional theorists, appears in this Wiki entry:

I’m going to look at it and write more later.  I hope to find some interventions that help adults as well.

Writing works better for me . . .

July 24, 2009

I’m in the process of accepting that writing is the best way for me to communicate, even though calls and visits are the normal social standards.  In my emails and notes, I feel in control of what I’m saying, v. in social situations or on the phone, I often don’t.  I find that my nervous feelings, and people’s impressions of my nervousness, make things too awkward for me to feel comfortable or understood.  This has always been true for me, but I’ve never recognized it as fully until now.  More later.

The “What’s wrong with you?” Look

July 16, 2009

Every time I go somewhere, I get “the look” from people, and it’s not flattering.  “The look” is that expression of faux concern, that unwanted curiosity without compassion, that pretending-to-be-clinical-as-an-excuse-to-not-mind-one’s-own-business, that question of why this person with the unsteady appearance is out in the world.

I get “the look” many times–when I’m at the grocery store maneuvering a heavy basket and grocery bags.  It’s a “what are you doing here” type of a look.  It’s a look that reminds me of what would happen if you somehow combined Nell with Bridget Jones.

Like Nell, I have struggled both with social isolation and a feeling of being both very intelligent and radically different, in a way that causes people some unease.  People get nervous because NLD causes me to not fit in precisely with social grooves.  I’m more on the periphery, more of a wallflower observer.  I’ve been asked several times if I’m blind.  I have excellent vision, but my eye contact is fleeting and inconsistent.  In an interview, Jodie Foster observes that “it’s not safe to be in the world when you’re like Nell.”  This is true, and I’d add that when you have attributes of these qualities, albeit in milder forms, people are extremely judgmental and lacking in understanding.

Like Bridget Jones, I don’t stand out as much as Nell would, but I feel out of place anytime I’m not home alone.  Anxiety builds up when I go places or deal with people.  If I ever have a relationship, if finances allow, I would like to own my own property so I have a place to write, be alone, think, and relax.  Alone time is not pathological; it’s like oxygen, especially given how much resistance society has towards socially-impacting differences and appearances.

Bridget Jones struggles to say the right things at the right times and blend into social scenes.  She is also susceptible–in a more extreme way than people without major, ongoing social stress–to people trying to impose their opinions on her about what she should do.  And she experiences both internal and external self-consciousness.  I totally identify with that.  Sometimes my external self-consciousness looks worse than what I feel, which is very disconcerting and no fun for other people, either.

I get why people sometimes stare, but it’s rather gauche and doesn’t help me feel more acclimatized to social settings.  In fact, I feel unwelcome and alienated when I sense that people think there’s something wrong with me.  When I was in first grade, kids liked playing Helen Keller.  I didn’t experience being Helen as just a game, however, I really felt kind of like that–isolatd, treated differently, seen by others as not having fully-working senses–all the time, like my eyes were squeezed half-shut as people rushed past, grabbed my hands, and walked me to the water pump.

Or when we played “light as a feather, stiff as a board.”  In that game, I felt also felt different, not just for the moment, but long after the game ended.  When children become adults who can no longer chant folklore, the inquiry persists in stares, in the silently-taunting “what’s wrong with you” look.  I wish people would get to know me, and other people with NLD and similar conditions, and our talents, rather than making these unqualified judgments.

Job Interviews: the “any-questions” part

July 13, 2009

I just got back from an interview, and was trying to think what to blog about.  When they ask (and they will–at least twice) if you have any questions, here are three ideas:

-Ask a question that relates to what the interviewer was just talking about.

-Ask a standard question you’d thought of before the interview (take from a job advice site if you’re unsure, or use the office’s website, or a related resource).

-If the above strategies fail, or you’re at a loss for comments, take the first topic you can think of and make it into a question.  Don’t worry if you hesitate, just put some words together using hows and whys.  Remember that no question is a dumb question.  In an interview, it’s better to fill in conversational spaces with positive phrases, even if you struggle.  If they already know you have NLD, things will fall into place.  It will take several interviews, but you’ll get better each time.  Even the ones that don’t go well are just practice, and there’s nothing to lose.  More later.

NLD: A Math-Impacting Learning Disability

July 9, 2009

As many people already know, NLD causes difficulties learning math.  Sometimes it’s impossible.  I was diagnosed late and raised by math-loving parents who assumed that because I am musically talented, I must automatically be good at all my academic subjects.  What a myth. They said I had an attitude problem when I didn’t get algebra the first time around.

Before that, I struggled with arithmetic, pre-algebra, and geometry.  I ended up repeating algebra three times (both due to not getting it the first time and needing to review the skills because I don’t practice math much, just as someone with reading disabilities tends not to read as much/often as someone without them).  Then I took a very watered-down basic geometry class so I would be accepted to the university I worked so hard to transfer to (I wanted to attend an excellent school because I’ve spent so many years needing to prove my intelligence and having the degree on paper sometimes helps, but not as often as one could wish; plus I’m not a school-name-dropper; if I’d felt like my intelligence was credited throughout my life, I wouldn’t be so obsessed with being admitted to the best schools, but that’s another topic).

Then I took Algebra II, which went fine because it’s so tied into Algebra I, and my professor was very good at explaining things in easy-to-understand ways.  Unfortunately, now my future department wants all students to take a statistics course.  I’ve dropped the class twice because I don’t understand things fast enough, or at all.  Many times people think not getting math is a decision, as if we choose to dislike it.  This isn’t true.

When someone doesn’t understand a basic academic subject, it’s painful.  We would like nothing more than to confidently write problems on the chalk board, but NLD makes this experience unlikely.  My former professor was walking around looking at our notes.  When he looked at mine, he stepped back, as if to say “what the heck is this.”  Sigh.  I tried to get good at math many times, but it’s never worked out.  I hope my department will approve a course substitution.

Too often, math-disability literature doesn’t focus on the college years.  This is a big problem, since nearly all colleges require students to take some math or math-related courses.  I hope that talking about this helps someone else.  I’ll let you know what happens with my department.  There have been worse problems in life, and this one ought to be fixable.  Let’s hope so.  Thanks for reading about this, and if you have ideas, please comment.  More later.

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

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”).