Odd Girl In

How do I fit in?

My Father, Myself

My father and I found our way despite my NLD.

I have non verbal learning disorder (NLD) yet I don't think of myself as disabled. How is this possible?

Nobody ever treated me as if I were disabled. There are subjects, foreign languages, math, the rules of grammar I can't grasp; and yes I call myself spatially retarded and dare use the "r" word because it's true. But I grasped history, political science, all the social sciences and literature so quickly my parents didn't think I did the work until they checked it themselves.

Unfortunately my handwriting was so bad my father would have to type all my important papers. I would spend the majority of my time making my lesser papers legible. It wasn't easy and my "world class" school system should have accepted papers in print as I could print well.

This isn't about "because I didn't get accommodations yet still managed to graduate high school, college and grad school, you shouldn't get them." Grab anything that makes life easier and makes you a better student because you'll learn more in college than anywhere else, and hopefully some of it will be academics. College allows you time to learn to be an adult.

Hopefully you'll fall in love, break up, fall in love again, make friends from everywhere and gain independence while watching your GPA as grad school isn't often a choice but a necessity. NLD shouldn't preclude any of that. It might be more difficult for you, and it might take an extra year or two to graduate because you might have to take fewer classes but that time in college away from your parents monitoring your every move is the first step toward functioning in the real world. (Wow do I sound like my father! His preferred mode of speaking was lecturing.)

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I'm not saying this because I grew up in the 1950s and '60s and lacked the parental support of today. Note that I said my father typed my papers. He was faster and more accurate than my mother. I called my parents the original YUPPIES because they were. 

If my parents were around today I would call them "helicopter parents," and my father "Tiger Dad," because he wanted to be one. He was a self-employed CPA who limited his practice when my sister and I were young so he could work from home one or two days a week, and be there for us. I hated it as I would have done anything to blend in. But I came from a family where blending in was frowned upon. I would have been eccentric even if I didn't have any problems.

The first thing I remember my father saying to me was "Everybody! Who is everybody?" If "everybody" did something it was wrong.

My parents didn't know what, if anything, was wrong with me. Doctors at NYU Medical Center said "maybe it's a minor case of cerebral palsy," but they tried putting that out of their heads as no help was offered. I went through puberty early and it was ferocious. For many years even I thought most of my problems were attributed to that as everything was magnified for more than half a month.

My parents bought into the "problems of an adoptee" theory as they had nothing else to believe. But they realized that I loved them as much, maybe more, than any born-to child, and by the time I was in high school none of us really focused on adoption. My parents tried harder than parents should ever have to try. I went to one pediatrician on Long Island, and another much more famous one on Park Avenue. Dr. Milton I Levine was amazing. It was he who suggested I go for testing at NYU. After the testing he ran out of answers.

Though my father and I communicated mainly by yelling for many years he told me much later that I was the person he admired the most because I never gave up. No matter how many times I was kicked in the rear I would continue. I didn't know life gave you choices when I was very young.

"You're so close to perfect." "Why can't you do this right?" Secretly he might have admired me but he didn't know how to pay a compliment. He thought the way to make me whole was to criticize as much as possible while also holding long admiring conversations with me about everything. Most of my childhood was "normal" and not problem-centered.

My parents went out a lot. I babysat my younger sister from the time I was nine as I was responsible and we lived in a garden apartment court where one adult would make the court rounds each Saturday and check on us. My family always spent Sunday together doing something, and we went on several small "educational" vacations a year and one or two larger ones.

We were a well-liked and respected family. I looked like my father and was honored when men would stop me on the street and ask if I was Max Savage's daughter. I knew how much he loved me despite his yelling.

My father yelled. It was what he knew. He didn't expect me to take his yelling personally but I did even though Make Room for Daddy starring, Danny Tomas, was my sister, Elka, and my favorite TV show when we were little. Like our father, Danny Thomas had dark hair and a big nose. He had an obvious job but spent as much time as he could with his family. And he yelled. He could drive you crazy with his yelling. We loved Danny Thomas because in an era of unreal TV families he was real.

I couldn't articulate what was wrong. There were so many possibilities and none fit. It was like a puzzle with a piece missing, not that I can do any puzzle. When I was kicked out of drivers ed because I couldn't even learn how to hold the steering wheel properly there were many opportunities to explore what really was wrong. But it was the late 1960s; my driver's ed teacher told everybody I came to school stoned and I was scared that my parents would believe him if I told them the reason he gave for kicking me out.

Why shouldn't I have been angry? I did nothing wrong except not know how to learn something properly and it was my fault. My fault. Everything was my fault. Many of my teachers were cruel. They thought I was lazy and couldn't understand why a girl from such a good family with a high IQ and very high standardized test scores did so many things so badly. I didn't tell my parents how badly some teachers treated me. I didn't want to upset them.

My parents sent me to John Roberts Powers charm school. I knew I wasn't going to learn the things we were taught. Nor did I want to learn how to apply powder blue eyeshadow when I lined my eyes with black. I cut as It was expedient to spend the day with the older boyfriend I made in Washington Square Park. I invited him to the house my parents had bought in Jericho five years earlier. He came in his Mack truck. My parents accepted him as they accepted all my later boyfriends and everything that seems wild and crazy today but then--it was the late '60s, early '70s and I was being a hippie.

 My parents needed to be told good things about me. It was easier for my mother. She didn't personalize as much. I used to think my father claimed ownership of my sister and I. Oh, I wasn't scared I was going to be sent back to the foster home. I just wanted to stop making stupid mistakes and I wanted to be told that it was OK if I did make them. My mother did and I will always worship her for that but my father didn't know how. He hated making mistakes.

My Dad apologized shortly before his sudden death in 1991 and I accepted his apology though I had forgiven him a longtime before. He told me he operated under the "will she hate me at 30?" principle. My father was an overly generous man. What was his was ours.

When I was 25 in 1975 I moved back to New York, and into my parents house. Sort of. I had a job, friends in the city, and couches to crash on. My father would go to bed late but I came home even later. Banks were giving presents then for opening accounts. One day, bleary eyed, he handed me a set of Teflonware.

"I guess you want me to move?"

He just shook his head yes.

Our grownup relationship began that day. I made one of the best friends I have ever had. He had to grant me the independence to fall so that I could become a functional adult. If you told him that I have NLD and explained it, he would look with a shock of recognition. If you called me disabled he would look at you with a bewildered stare. I'm not disabled. I'm my father's daughter and we are complicated. NLD owns me only enough to have made my life a guessing game. Had I known what was wrong I could have fought. I'm nothing if not a good fighter. I wish you could ask my father

© 2011 Pia Savage

Pia Savage is a writer, journalist, and former social worker diagnosed with Non Verbal Learning Disorder.

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