Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Pia Savage

The Disorder That Gets No Respect

Non Verbal Learning Disorder does not play by any rules.

This was my first post for psychology today. I began writing on NLD because somebody had to; I have it and as I have been blogging since August, 2004 know (or knew) every trick. Except the one where you become rich and famous or at least earn a decent living from it! I used to think that my blog Courting Destiny was much better known and liked than I was.

You want to scream at me, but you don't as you like me and are well mannered.

"How can somebody with a grad school degree not always be able to put a seat belt in its notch?"

And since you never said that out loud, I don't say "do you think it's easy for me?"

I fly often, and half the time I take more than a minute to get the belt out of its notch. The people sitting next to me often let me know what they think. A window seat would be an easy answer, but I like aisles.

My life is filled with "little mistakes." I'm spatially retarded so I'm constantly standing exactly where the waiter at a buffet needs to pass. I can never figure out exactly how to help at a dinner. No lie. If you tell me exactly what to do I will do it, but I need explicit directions. This doesn't mean I need directions in the bigger more important things in life. I used to manage computerized litigation projects with many employees and was considered to be excellent at it.

My life is filled with contradictions. My gait is off. I can walk fast, but I can't run. I can bike ride and swim, but I can't jump. When I was young, I could both roller skate and ice skate--horribly, but I didn't care, I just enjoyed the repetitive motions. I have little "muscle memory," so I must constantly watch DVDs of lunges, and other exercises that I enjoy but can never remember. I tried doing exercise boot camp and each month new people would come and surpass me in three days. Yes, I know I deserve accolades for trying. There came a point, after six months and no weight loss or great muscle definition, when I began feeling as if I were back in junior high, and I don't need reminders of the days I was the most unpopular girl in the room.

I call organization "the black hole," as organization feels like nothingness to me. The computer age has let me fake being organized in many ways. My bills no longer sit in the bottom of my pocketbook for days or weeks or sometimes even months. Oh, my pocketbook, the repository for about everything that you can think of, is my savior. I don't like to litter and somehow don't see the garbage cans on the street so I keep everything. I have learned to somewhat organize my pocketbook as I have learned to somewhat organize my life.

"Put on your glasses," my best friend would say. "No," I would answer, "you don't understand. Yes, I'm nearsighted, but I don't see what's on the side of me. Sometimes I don't see what's in front of me." She learned.

I used to bitch that I would bump into almost everybody in the city, say "sorry," and people would sometimes go off on me.
"You retard, look at you, people like you shouldn't be allowed out." That paricular insult wasn't usual, but cursing was. If I don't make every effort to look great, I can look sloppy. People like me really shouldn't go out unless they're totally manicured.

One day my best friend and I walked down Broadway. She showed me how I was hyper conscious of my walk, and that generally people bumped into me. Yet I would be the one to say "sorry." I still do.

If you think calling myself spatially retarded isn't PC, what else could I call myself? I would tell doctors that I perceived space differently. They would look at me as if I saw aliens. I began to think seeing aliens would be more acceptable.

I didn't know until three and a half years ago that I have a disability called Non Verbal Learning Disorder (NLD). I had always heard about the a-ha moment people go through when they hear about the disorder that fits them. When I first learned about NLD, the world began making sense.

Yet there is much about me that doesn't fit the literature. My jobs in the computerized litigation industry entailed reading, comprehending and explaining or rewriting obtuse material. I triumphed in that. Except for junior and much of senior high, I have always "fit" in. I'm more outgoing than I am introverted though if I'm exhausted or overwhelmed, I can appear "Asperger-like." There would be times I would go on a series of job interviews and though I was highly qualified nobody would hire me as something appeared "off." Other times I would go on interviews and employers would unfreeze jobs for me.

I'm a complex person who happens to have a little understood or known disability. I hope to be one of the people who help doctors, therapists, educators and the general public understand the too many often conflicting signs of NLD, and work with us to overcome our problems. I dream of it being as recognized as Asperger's.

See for more blog posts.

© 2011 pia Savage

About the Author

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