There is almost nothing written about nonverbal learning disorder in adults. Almost nothing. What little there is, is written by the so-called “experts” – psychologists and the like, often about how to recognize it in adults, or tips for surviving the workplace. I have found exactly one published book written by someone with NLD.
It’s an invisible topic. When we talk about learning disabilities, we almost exclusively talk about raising (or putting up with) children who have them. Occasionally we talk about the education system and how to make it more accessible. But there’s more to learning disabilities than that. For one thing, there is the experience of those who actually have them. For another, there’s adulthood.
I’ve been wondering how to write about this for awhile. What’s the impact of it? Why does it matter? How do I describe that?
Then I saw this story today. In brief, Alex Johnstone, a young woman politician, faced a major setback because she told a reporter that she didn’t know what “Auschwitz” was. Only it wasn’t that she didn’t know what Auschwitz was, it’s that she has dyslexia and she didn’t recognize the word.
And it hit me what the problem is.
A learning disability has nothing to do with your intelligence. In fact, many people with learning disabilities have above-average intelligence (although I recognize the problems with the social construction of “intelligence”). People with learning disabilities lean strongly towards certain forms of communication and away from others. Dyslexia means you have trouble with reading and writing. NLD, among other things, means you have trouble organizing thoughts, communicating the big picture, and understanding nonverbal communications (like hand gestures, tone of voice, and facial expression).
Like Alex, as I have grown up I have learned to deal with my learning disability and I am mostly a competent adult. I have learned to play to my strengths, and that’s how I get through life. But also like Alex, I occasionally I mess up and do something really embarrassing and shitty.
What I wish is that our society would acknowledge that this exists. So that’s it’s not such a shock when someone accidentally does something seemingly stupid. So we can give people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t recognize word on the page.
Can we give people the benefit of the doubt when they mess up?
Can we learn to acknowledge learning disabilities in adults? Can we talk about them?
I know lots of people don’t want their disabilities to define them. They probably don’t want to be associated with the stigma of developmental disabilities. But we can’t be understood if we remain invisible.