“How does your nonverbal learning disability affect you?”
I’ve been asked this question in several different settings throughout the years. Whether it’s a conference with a teacher, a job interview or just a casual conversation, I immediately enter self-reflection mode. Sometimes, the answers come to me right away. Other times, I have to think more deeply.
When I was 14, I found out I had a nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) and LD-NOS (learning disorder not otherwise specified). Now, at 23, I look back at how much I’ve grown and changed since then. There’s no “cure” for NVLD, but along the way I’ve learned skills and strategies to help myself, especially when it comes to academics.
Everyone’s experience with NVLD is different. But here are some surprising ways that NVLD affects me as a young adult.
1. I can’t fully plan things in my head.
I have excellent working memory and long-term memory. I can remember what I wore on the first day of kindergarten, things that were said years ago, and lines from books, movies and songs.
But because of NVLD, I often have trouble planning out events, gatherings or appointments in my head. That includes planning how to get to unfamiliar places. I tend to get lost frequently, even when I’m using my smartphone to guide me.
I’ve realized I can organize and execute a plan if I write things down, whether it’s on my digital or paper calendar. Writing things down helps me see what I need to do spelled out in words, which is one of my strengths. And it’s part of why I always manage to get where I’m going, and remember meetings and appointments.
2. My bedroom is a mess.
Over the years, my bedroom has always been messy. When I was in college, my mother, who is phenomenal with cleaning and organizing, would help me make my room spotless at the beginning of every semester. However, by the end of every term, my room was, put simply, a mess.
Now that I’m older, I know the standards for cleanliness are much higher. So I’ve learned ways to be neater and cleaner. The best strategy for my NVLD: Everything has its proper place. After I use something, I promptly put it back where it belongs.
3. Driving is tricky and I still get nervous.
Most people don’t understand that driving a car requires awareness of space and depth perception. People with NVLD, like me, often struggle with these skills. So I’ve always disliked driving.
I know, though, that the more you practice something, the more confident and skilled you become. I have a driver’s license and can drive, and one of my goals is to practice more, so I can feel less nervous about it.
4. Without active reading, I can’t process information.
When reading, I struggle to process information. That’s a big issue now that I’m in graduate school, because I’m always reading scholarly articles and taking exams.
When I read, I have to use active reading strategies, such as highlighting, margin note-taking, and knowing how to identify the most important passages. I find that making index cards is a helpful strategy too. Active reading helps me process and retain what I read.
5. Writing is hard even though I like words.
I have strong verbal skills and I like words. But I have a love-hate relationship with writing, because writing requires organization, planning and information processing, which are difficult for me. Getting started is usually very hard.
Because of my verbal strengths, I often dictate what I want to write onto a computer. I also use the writing center at graduate school for help in fleshing out and organizing my ideas. When I write using my strengths and strategies I’ve learned—and take advantage of available supports at school—the end product is usually a deep, organized and comprehensive piece of writing.
6. I love people, but I worry I’ll say the wrong thing.
I call myself an extrovert by nature and an “empath” at heart. I have a ton of friends. I love people, and people like to be around me!
However, I do have social anxiety, which is tied into my NVLD diagnosis. At times, I worry that I might say the wrong thing. I also worry that I’ll miss something important in the conversation. Thankfully, I’ve surrounded myself with a wonderful circle of people, like family and friends, who help build me up. There’s no way I could do this alone.
Read more from Michaela Hearst: Find out how she found a sport that worked for her, despite her motor skills issues.
Learn more about confusing signs of NVLD. Get advice from a mom on parenting a child with NVLD. And help bust six common myths about NVLD.
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About the author
Michaela Hearst, MSW is a writer and advocate.