Pia Savage

Odd Girl In

NLD and friendship

How a person with NLD makes and keeps friends

Posted May 26, 2011

People who have nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) live in an upside-down world. Things that come so easily to most people such as changing cartridges in a printer can be unbearably hard to us. We can talk about five subjects at once and it makes perfect sense to us but not to anybody else. This is not to say we're intellectually challenged.

We might be much "smarter" than most people. Yet our problems are so scattered and we have so many different ones they can make what should be a great life hardly tolerable.

 I don't find it difficult to make friends, but I work it. I make sure that I'm usually "up," have things to add to the conversation, am a good listener, have an expressive face, make jokes and laugh a lot.

Before I knew about NLD I took having friends for granted. At the same time I couldn't understand why I was so uncomfortable in large groups. I couldn't understand why I was so comfortable with a few friends, yet felt as if I were following a how to be a friend script with others. It can be exhausting.

Last night I was at the new Pirates film. I was trying to follow the dialogue, the action, listen to my friend's whispering, and make occasional witty remarks at the same time. Anyone of those things is tiring for somebody with NLD. It gets easier with practice but it's never relaxing. When I say I would rather watch most movies at home, most people don't understand. They think it's a social experience. To me it's work.

I'm fairly new to the South and belong to some groups where I haven't reached my comfort zone. Last week I was at a dinner meeting and spent part of the night wondering if I was coming off NLD'd. Am I wooden? Do I sound stilted? Do I make sense? Am I talking too much? Too little? Shouldn't I order a glass of wine? Finally I made a conscious decision to stop analyzing my behavior and it turned into a good night.

I know, and have known all my life, that there are people who find me weird and want nothing to do with me. The last time I heard somebody, overtly, laugh at me* I was 25 and looking for both an apartment and roommate. I went to a beautiful apartment in the West Village. The interview lasted a hot minute.

When I waited for the elevator I heard the apartment renter and other girls she was seriously interviewing talking about how weird I was. It hurt. But I found an apartment that was to be remembered forever for its gatherings and parties. As it was a studio I could afford to live alone.

My friends' children say I have "the memory of an elephant" because I can remember anything about our collective history, their family stories, and mine. I'm good on news, pop culture, and anything trivial. That helps me start and/or continue conversations. I can talk too much but try to be cognizant of that. It's both an NLD and family trait.

I make my home as comfortable as possible so that people will want to come over. My home is my safety zone. So is walking just about anywhere. Stores, even crowded museums can overwhelm me. I never know when I will be overwhelmed in advance.

 Sometimes I want to stay in my house and see nobody forever. I let myself do that for two days, and two days only once every six weeks. I did that this past weekend. By Monday I called a friend and made immediate plans.

I don't look for common interests. I have friends who have diametrically opposed views to mine. I look for friends I can let my guard down with and just be me. I love to laugh so I look for friends who have great senses of humor. Who make me laugh and laugh at my lines.

I always say "she who laughs at herself first laughs last and forever." It's a good life motto.

If we have learned anything in the past few years, it's that life's not about what we have but who we have in our lives. I would say I have been exceptionally lucky in the friends area of life but I made the friendships happen.

*I'm sure people still laugh at me or want to.  That kind of behavior no longer bothers me.

© 2011 Pia Savage