Odd Girl In

How do I fit in?

In Their Own Words: Anna

Anna is a 30 year old professional with NLD who is searching for her life.

Several years ago I found Facebook nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) groups and began haunting them. My real education in NLD takes place on the mean streets of Facebook! I'm kidding about half of that! Anna was one of the first people with NLD I knew. I was confused as she seemed so much like a late 20something mini—me. Though I had been wilder and have the times (1970's) as an excuse!

Anna fascinated me as she has obvious natural social skills and leadership ability. I met her and two other young women with NLD last summer in Boston. We clicked right away and the visit was way too short. I hope we all have the opportunity to meet many more times. Anna never complains about not being diagnosed until age 28. That makes me happy as while I know there's much more help for kids, the help often doesn't seem to carry over into adulthood. She complains about other more valid issues. I hope you enjoy getting to know Anna as much as I did!

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So tired of looking for a good full time job.

So tired of interviewing and waiting to be called back.

So tired of following up on leads,

So tired of interviewing for jobs to find out later that the companies decided they couldn't afford positions that I was up for (yes, this has happened to me twice...).

So tired of working the best days of the week ( Thursday through Sunday), and having the worst days of the week (Monday through Wednesday) off.

So tired of telling friends and cousins I can't visit them because of my work schedule and money.

So tired of not using my brain when I am at work. My brain is not a fan of not thinking and solving problems.

So tired of putting my life on hold until I have a better job...

Hell, I'm even tired of waiting for dental insurance to get my wisdom teeth out!

I may be tired, but I am not asleep, I may be frustrated, but I will not stop. I feel this is almost my time, I'm always there... and then the real fun will begin.

I posted this the other day on Facebook:

I have been searching for a long-term full-time job for what seems to be my entire life. I've learned many people with NLD have felt this way at one point or another. Here is my story…

I was diagnosed with having "specific learning disabilities" as a child. I think this basically meant I didn't have dyslexia or ADD, but they didn't know what else there was. It was the late '80's and NLD hadn't been "invented" yet. That diagnosis was not enough for me. I always wanted more, always wanted to know what was UP with me, why I wasn't like anyone else… I felt I was more traditionally academically talented then many of the other students labeled as having "learning disabilities," yet I was not talented in many of the things they were, such as art or working with their hands. Still, I was a different thinker, a different learner than the other students, than the ones with no label. I was alone in my experience in school and no one seemed to understand exactly what my learning "deal" was.

I also believed there was more to me than just being "bad at math." My brain thought differently.

The answer didn't came until I was just shy of 28. A college journalism major, I had been working as a newspaper reporter. I loved it. I loved being paid to get out in the world and meet interesting people. I loved asking them questions. I LOVED being paid to write. I loved attending events and shows and writing my thoughts on them. A much as I loved it, I knew this career path wasn't the right one for me forever. It was my whole life. I knew it wasn't the right fit for me long term.

If I wanted marriage, kids, even close friends outside of the newspaper world, I knew I wasn't able to continue in newspapers. The fast-paced media scene was changing in the age of the Internet, and if I wanted to work my way up to a better job in the profession, the options would demand more and more of my time, energy, and thoughts. Before I had a chance to decide what my next steps should be, that decision was made for me.

It was no surprise to me in this age of instant blogs and social media, that the weekly paper I worked for closed down in 2009. The bad part was it was the middle of the recession. I knew I needed to take this career crisis moment to reassess where I was going. I needed to find work that would be more stable in the changing economy and get on with my life.

Writing, verbal creativity and interacting with people were the areas in which I excelled. I didn't know what other careers used those skills. I needed to look for work in a field with more jobs, but what else could I do? I had done so well in school that I hadn't thought about how my learning disability would affect me. Nothing was done about it since I did well in school, but I felt my school got my learning disability diagnosis wrong and I wanted answers.

There was something more to it than "specific learning disabilities." It wasn't dyslexia, though…I had talked to adult dyslexics and my mind worked very differently than theirs, sometimes even opposite. One "gifted dyslexic" told me his mind thought in pictures. I thought in words. Words "flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup" as John Lennon had said. It wasn't ADD. I had a few people close to me with ADD. I could focus on anything at will. For many reasons they both didn't fit. But what else was there?

And, most importantly, what skills did I have that were marketable for jobs outside of publishing? Jobs with more options. I was going to get tested and get some answers.

That meant eight hours of testing. Eight exhausting hours of sitting with a neuropsychologist while he had me do paper tests and question and answers. While he tried to distract me. He tried to confuse me. It's kind of like being tortured, really. I aced some tasks, failed miserably at others. This is the way they diagnose these things they call learning disorders and learning disabilities.

On that topic, I think "learning disability" is a misleading term. Learning disabilities are not all about school. It seems to me they are discovered in school because they affect our ability to meet academic standards. I guess we also get diagnosed to help us succeed at life and school. However, they are not only about school.

Learning disabilities are about life. I used to think a learning disability meant learning as a child was going to be much more challenging than it would be for other people, but if you-- if I--- were willing to work 10 times harder than everyone else, I'd do perfectly fine as an adult, maybe even better than many other people. As a child, they told me it had nothing to do with intelligence. I took that to mean it would go away when I grew up if I worked hard enough. It was up to me.

But, at 28, it was still there. The test distinguished which skills in my brain were average, above average, below average, superior, impaired, and significantly impaired. I had areas that covered all of those qualifications (wow!), while apparently most people have their abilities clustered. Most people land somewhere on the IQ spectrum with their abilities bundled together in superior, above average, average, below average, impaired, and significantly impaired ranges. Those of us with learning disabilities blow that curve. We are literally smart and dumb at the same time. I am literally smart and dumb at the same time. Saying that is not putting myself down. I don't have low self esteem. I just know who I am, It's a fact. It's my reality! To be honest, I like me the way I am… I don't like all of the little annoying hiccups this brings to my life, but I like being an anomaly.

After you spend all day in testing they send you on your way for two weeks. You wonder what the results are going to be, what you are going to discover about yourself. I thought it was going to answer a lot of questions and lead to a good and rewarding career path. I was excited, I finally was going to have an answer for why my brain was so different then others.

Then came the day I returned to that neuro-psych-dude and to hear my results and my even more exciting diagnosis that would, of course, change my life. And it was…da da da daaaaaaa: Nonverbal Learning disability/ disorder (NLD). Well, that was a new one.

He explained it to me. It made sense. My trouble with math, check. Handwriting, check. Recalling spelling and punctuation while writing, yet being strong at reading. Makes sense. Being praised for my writing talent, check. Very poor fine motor skills, check, check, check! That explains why I can't sew! Spatial skills= why I bump into people all the time, motor memory= why I can't remember a dance move… it was all coming together.

Reading delay that completely went away when I was 11! That, too! Sure, not all of it fit, and some things that are written about NLD, well, I simply disagree with. But overall I was excited to hear I wasn't making myself up! People used to roll their eyes at things I said about my theories about my brain, telling me I was neurotic, or not so unique. They were wrong! I knew my abilities were all over the place. I wasn't making it up. I was right all along, and now a professional had confirmed it.

Even the good stuff—superior verbal IQ, creative, many of us have a lot of compassion and connect well with people. That was all there. The ability to remember things about people we meet, yep, a lot of NLD-ers have that, too. Most people think NLD-ers are making our difficulties up because you come off composed, well-spoken, and intelligent? Yep, that was me, too.

But what did that mean for employment? The reason why I went in to get tested to begin with was to learn about better career options. That was a bit more fuzzy. "We don't know, everyone with NLD is different," He said.

Well, that wasn't helpful.

So, I was given a diagnosis and sent out in the world to find my way… on my own. A world filled with internet posts from parents and professionals talking about how terrible it is to have NLD. A world where spatial skills, visual memory, and so many other "deficits" I have are frequently required in life, and so frequently required in both entry-level and non-college level jobs. I am known for being a very positive person. I have so many things I want to accomplish, so I was just going to have to figure something out.

Right now I am still searching for a full-time long -term job that will challenge my always thinking, always moving verbal mind. I worked at a couple of really great part-time jobs since my diagnosis. I have taught science labs and workshops to families at a science museum. For another nonprofit, I wrote blog posts and Facebook posts, lead staff meetings, created curriculum for and taught enrichment classes to children, raised in-kind donations worked with television media to get us on TV, and wrote grants, even learned to meditate to come up with ideas with the children in the program. I have found it a challenge in this economy to find a full time job that allows me to do the work I did at these part-time jobs.

I have done some research, and found that sales and customer service jobs use many of my skills. There are more job opportunities than in fields I've tried before. These jobs would allow me to use my people skills and writing skills, but would also allow me to work directly with other businesses. I am working a part-time job as a product demonstrator now, but am also searching for a full-time job and am ready for my next adventure.

After I get a full-time job, I plan to do some work--writing, speaking, networking, whatever it takes-- to raise awareness and help to bring a better life to people with dyslexia, ADD, Aspergers, and other average- to high-IQ cognitive disorders.

Our disabilities are hidden. We seem, we are, normal, but, in a way, that is a problem for us. Even we are left wondering what we can do to live the best lives we can. I hope that changes soon.

I want more people like me to use their talents in many ways. Some of the most creative people I know have NLD, dyslexia, ADD, or Aspergers. The idea that some of these people will not be able to change the world with their original thinking because of their deficits--and the lack ofunderstanding of the employers, friends, family members, and communities around them--is not something I can allow to continue. If I can someday make a career out of this dream I would have lived up to my calling, my reason for being and going through all I have gone through. I can't wait.

… but first, I need a full time job…..

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

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