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Pia Savage
Pia Savage

A Matter Of Degrees

Nonverbal learning disorder differs in each person.

When they find out I have nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) some people say to me: "I can't believe you're able to process such advanced information," "How do you comprehend what you read?" and other remarks that at times make me defensive. Intuitively I had understood that there are degrees of NLD. Someday it might be separated as Autism and Asperger's have been. Here's an excellent clinical description that delves into differences, by Michael Roman.

Understand this. I'm far from stupid. I am, however, a person who believes in the inherent goodness of most people, who has allowed herself to be taken advantage of more than once while being aware that I was being taken advantage of. But they have so much less than I do; let me help them out financially. But she needs the promotion, so let me (who hates paperwork) do her paperwork. Self-defeating behaviors that only served to make people think less of me, and for me to lose both material goods and self-esteem.

Through my extensive research about NLD, including discussions with many people who have NLD or who are parents of children with NLD, I have come to think that as a group we are a lot more compassionate than average. We're perhaps a bit more liberal since we know what it's like to be the last person picked for a team and bullied, so we run to help people who are helpless.

Understand something else. Sue Thompson and Byron Rourke have done wonderful jobs getting NLD known but their job is incomplete. We who are writing, doing documentaries, making YouTube videos are also contributing to the literature of NLD. And it's difficult for me because it's damn hard to read Thompson and Rourke. Not because I can't comprehend the material but because it hurts.

In so many ways they're describing me but I was never the person they have as typical for NLD. My problem was seeing too many meanings in a sentence. I was the person who saw the fifth answer in a 4-item multiple choice test and you know what, some teachers agreed with me and devised separate tests for me. But I always excelled at standardized tests except for the disparity in the SAT's. 720 verbal; 395 math. Oh, yes, I have NLD even if I don't fit the literature completely. Here's a paragraph by Wendy Heller about right brain damage--something people with NLD have.

The inability of RBD people to understand jokes and metaphors reflects their difficulty in understanding how things normally fit together, interact, or intersect. They therefore fail to be surprised by an unexpected ending or twist to a story. They also have difficulty seeing how the characteristics of one situation might explain or describe the characteristics of another situation, as happens in metaphor e.g. "my job is a jail". Not surprisingly, RBD people have great difficulty with novelty, and are highly dependent on sameness and routine

Let me be the first to say I lacked a sense of humor as a child. Something that upset my father greatly. When my father first met my college boyfriend he devised a test--we changed tables in a Chinese restaurant no less than five times. My father knew how much I hated changing tables.

I didn't know my father had arranged it in advance with the maitre'd. My boyfriend found it very funny. He passed. I always say I developed a sense of humor in self-defense. And I'm big now on changing tables in restaurants also.

Funny but even as a child I excelled at understanding metaphors.

My parents left this earth before I was diagnosed so there are many questions I would love to ask them but can't. My parents and I were close friends, and there were many times after my father died, my mother would say: "I can't believe you, of all people, didn't get that." So I'm not saying that I'm immune to the literal problem. I'm saying that there are degrees.

I'm saying that NLD is a hard disorder to understand and that it's my hope I bring some human perspective to the table. I also hope that you join me on this journey where I'm still discovering my strengths and weaknesses. One thing about NLD that I hope changes for future generations is that I have spent my life never feeling quite settled. That does have its upside. I feel forever young and forever in search of knowledge about everything.

I would have loved a great job with benefits and a 401K. Oh, right, I walked away from that, and this is 2011. Nothing in life is secure. I just learned that lesson a bit earlier than most people.

Yes I see the irony inherent in the paragraph I quoted above and what I have been saying. Life is more ironic for me than for most people.

© 2011 pia Savage

About the Author
Pia Savage

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

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