Odd Girl In

How do I fit in?

The Dark Side of NLD

NLD is a complex disorder with many sub-disorders.

Last time I went into easy—to —relate–to problems associated with nonverbal learning disorder (NLD.) I was going to talk about my strengths. I realized I must brave the dark side, as it relates to me, for you to understand how serious NLD is and how truly amazing the strengths are. Part III of this series will be about strengths I intrinsically have and/or developed.

 Because I was diagnosed at 56, it's almost impossible for me to separate out what problems are direct effects of NLD, and what are "me" problems. The same goes for my strengths.

I was in therapy often. When I was a child my therapist believed the therapy to be a failure as I refused to admit that I was unhappy because I was adopted. No, I was nine, ten, going through an early puberty and the world had stopped making sense to me. I knew I was smart. Everybody knew I was smart. Then why couldn't I learn math properly? Why wasn't my handwriting legible? I knew how to use grammar but why couldn't I remember what an adverb was. Diagram a sentence? My teachers couldn't really be asking me to do that.

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NLD'ers are supposed to be bad at inference and hence not truly comprehend what we read but simply decode what we read or so I have been told by an NLD mother who insisted that at my advanced age I still can't infer. I was always good at that—OK if I can be immodest I was great at inference.

 Most of the mothers in Facebook support groups are wonderful. Some think they know everything. Nobody knows everything about NLD, and I would never pretend to. It's for that reason I usually limit my posts to problems that affect me.

I couldn't spell. My teachers made a big deal about this because I could read so well. This isn't an NLD problem but an audio processing one. I can't hear many words properly. Spell checks are a saviour as I do know the difference between "they're," "there," and "their," among other words. I began actively listening years ago and gradually this became less of a problem.

I was always a good succinct writer but somehow my writing went all over the world. A great editor who saw potential in me spent much time showing how to rein it in.

NLD'ers are supposed to be literal which would go with not being able to infer. I know I wasn't literal. My parents would have laughed over that. Yet sometimes I missed a joke or a sarcastic remark went over my head. I wonder if that's just being human or it is a disability. I wonder if I'm as "smart" as people think and it's nothing I should be thinking about.

My mother called me a hillbilly because I loved wearing undershirts, underpants and socks at home. Clothes bothered me. My tolerance for jewelry has abated. I can't stand ceiling fans. That's a sensory processing disorder that often goes with NLD.

 I am a baby boomer. We lived in a large garden apartment complex and I had many friends. Only most of them no longer wanted to play with me. NLD'ers aren't supposed to be good at reading nonverbal cues. Heck that's the crux of the disorder to some. I'm sure I was bad at many facets of nonverbal communication but I could tell when a person was angry, sad or disappointed. I felt that I did all three to my "friends."

 As I was losing my friends I got my first period at just eleven. My beloved grandmother died. She had taught me history from an ultra-liberal (OK Communist) perspective. Even at nine I knew that my friends wouldn't be interested in hearing about The Scottsboro Boys for example.

 While NLD'ers aren't supposed to understand boundaries—both physical and verbal—my boundaries were too big. I stood far away from people and became almost mute except at home where I talked too much. I feared people. I feared that they would hate me. If I couldn't understand me how could I expect anybody else to? Only I was eleven and not this self—aware.

 I began acting out and having meltdowns. I was eleven and had no frigging idea who I was anymore. My body was changing and my mind was almost too active. Yet except for my parents I had nobody to share my thoughts with.

 Sixth Grade was filled with IQ and other tests. I passed them all and was eligible to skip Seventh Grade. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. My parents decided to move from Northeast Queens to real Long Island. Though our new town was only fifteen Long Island Expressway minutes away it was like being in another world. One filled with girls who wore Villager clothes and spoke another language. One I was incapable of understanding. They were rich or acted it. I was used to middle—class kids.

My records didn't arrive with me. I was put in a regular class. I did so poorly in everything that when my records did arrive two months later and they asked if I wanted to be in the honors class I said no as I thought that's what they wanted me to say. If they wanted me to be in honors classes they would have asked my parents or so I thought. I don't think my reasoning was wrong. I still don't understand how they could put me in a typing class halfway through the semester. It was the only class I actually failed.

I don't think I had a true conversation in three years. Once I was supposed to give a speech. My mouth went dry and no words could come out.

 Therapy never helped and sometimes made everything worse. When a psychiatrist prescribed Thorazine I took myself off it after a week as I felt like a member of the walking dead.

 Life became better. I was pretty so boys liked me. My mother told me some boys in high school liked me. I didn't notice so I didn't believe her. I thought she was trying to make me feel good. Years later I found out she wasn't.

 College was a miracle. My first two years I majored in boys and don't resent a moment of it. My—on—and–off boyfriend loved to tease me. Yes I was teasable. Once we were driving to The Bronx over one of the Queens—Bronx bridges. I thought his eyes were closed and I freaked. He couldn't stop laughing. Fortunately he turned into the world's nicest person and is embarrassed by that. OK it still makes him laugh but.....Yes I missed nonverbal clues. I also couldn't "see" what wasn't directly in front of me.

Years later when my ten year old G-ddaughter and I were crossing Broadway in Manhattan, I let her walk without holding my hand. She pretended to close her eyes. I didn't fall for it!

 By the time I was in my late 20's I excelled at reading body language. After a series of job failures I found one reading documents and transcribing relevant information onto forms. I should have been horrible at this job but somehow I excelled. Soon I was digesting depositions. After that I was promoted to supervisor. I was an excellent trainer. Somehow I could explain manuals like nobody else. People liked to work for me. I motivated them to do their best work. It was simple. I treated them the way I wished I had been treated when I was younger––with much dignity and respect.

 I went to work for another company doing the same things and wrote the manuals. Soon I was promoted to project manager. Still I expected to be fired at any moment just like I had expected to be at other jobs.

 I think Barbara Bissonnette gives an excellent example of somebody who expected to be fired based on faulty assumptions. You can argue but I think my faulty assumptions were different. I knew something was wrong with me but had no frigging idea what it was. When you don't know how can you feel secure?

I'm the Queen of guilt. "I'm sorry" is my favorite expression. I'm always sorry for something I did or didn't do. This is where I don't understand boundaries; this is where I'm perhaps literal. I'm just beginning to understand it.

Sometimes, not as often as when I was younger, I forget—just forget—how to do the most simple things. Like find a document that's on my desktop. This wouldn't be so horrible if it weren't the only document on my desktop!

I have always needed more alone time than most people. For awhile, after the diagnosis, I thought I was going to be a recluse. But I'm too darn social.

Life went on. Hello anxiety my old friend. Nobody knows if anxiety is a function of NLD or co-morbid with it. But many NLD'ers suffer from it. And you do suffer.

I'm not sure I would know myself without some level of anxiety—and I have been on anti-anxiety meds since my 30's. It quells the worst of the anxiety and lets me function.

Sometimes I even feel peace.

 Next time I really will write about things I do better than many people. There are many things and I'm very proud of me. I didn't get the right help though my incredible parents tried so hard. And I didn't end up a pregnant at sixteen unwed junkie mother. I have never been suicidal (take that Byron Rourke) and am a licensed social worker. My whole life's been about achieving more and more. I won't stop until I'm brain dead or truly dead!

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

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