NVLD: Part 3

NVLD Part 1
NVLD Part 2
NVLD Part 3
NVLD Part 4

My handwriting was extremely bad until some time in, perhaps, 8th or 9th grade, when it finally became much neater and much easier to read.  Occasionally I tried a new way of writing, more drawing than writing (as NVLD students often do), but it made the clarity even worse.

In third grade, I entered a MACPO school, which allowed gifted children to go at their own pace.  All I can find on the Net with this acronym is an association for probation officers, but a MACPO school was basically a kind of Montessori school.

Unfortunately, since NVLD students often need structure, I did not do my classwork unless forced: I preferred to write stories.  Various math concepts took me much longer to learn; I struggled with fractions and long division.  In middle school, I still struggled with math most of all; I believe I was in the “smart” group for every basic subject, but really belonged in the smart group only for certain subjects.

It is said that kids with Asperger’s and NVLD are often hygienically challenged.  I did have trouble in my childhood, not understanding the importance of daily bathing or brushing my teeth.  Even other kids teased me for it, so you can’t say I was just being a kid.  My grandmother and mother got upset with me on a family trip, somewhere around age 10 or so, because I wasn’t yet showering daily and didn’t see the need for it.

But I turned it all around by age 13.  I began bathing and shampooing daily because of my oily hair and skin; I became so diligent at brushing and flossing that I was praised by men, women and dentists; I used creams on my face; I became so clean, and so desired to be clean, that some people started poking fun at me for being too clean.

I was quite surprised to go to college in Wisconsin and find people who showered or changed clothes only every other day, or only once a week.  (This wasn’t common, as far as I know, but I knew several such people who didn’t understand why I thought that was–odd.)  So you see, your NVLD kid just needs to understand the importance of being clean.

In high school, I realized that I had to do my homework on time.  I also took classes more suited to my abilities, whenever possible.

Gym was always a trial for me because I had trouble doing anything athletic.  Only calisthenics and other such non-athletic things went well.  Though I could make a basket pretty well because I often shot baskets at home with our garage hoop.  I sucked at baseball, couldn’t hit well, couldn’t catch.  The very name “kickball” made me cringe.

I hated volleyball, with all its movement and confusing rules.  I could not tell when a ball was headed my way, and could not hit it very well.  My teammates screamed at me for missing the ball, when I had thought it was nowhere near me.  Out of pent-up frustration, I lost my temper and yelled back at them, uncharacteristic behavior for me.

When we divided into teams to play competitive basketball, I did not know what to do when, even though the rules were probably explained; I couldn’t “think on my feet” or react to where the ball went or block.

I couldn’t run far or fast.  Once, my gym class in elementary school was tested for how far and fast we could run.  One of my friends advised starting out slowly to improve endurance while others were flagging.  I did that, but rather than out-endure everyone else, I ended up being the one lagging behind everyone else, finishing long after everyone else.

I still can’t catch because, rather than put out my hand, I get scared and move away from whatever’s coming at me.  So once the one-year obligation was completed, I no longer took gym.

After failing honors biology, I took regular classes in science.  In math, I took specialized subjects–algebra, geometry, algebra/trigonometry–but regular, not honors or advanced.

I excelled in regular classes.  (The exception was chemistry, where I averaged a C, got a D on the final, and got a final grade of C, but nobody seemed to do well with that teacher, and even the good students hated him.  He made sarcastic comments to other classes, not just mine.  I think he hated teaching.)

I’m not sure why I was recommended for honors science classes by my 8th grade science teacher: My grades in middle school math and science were awful.  (I was also quite frustrated because I wanted to know why, not just how, things worked as they did.)

In high school, I had good teachers for algebra and geometry, who explained the problems step-by-step and made them make sense, setting the stage for me to do well in algebra/trig.  On the other hand, I took the most advanced English course I could, and excelled in that as well.  So you see that there was a big difference between my ability in math and my ability in English, that while I could get As in AP English, I couldn’t handle anything above regular math or science.

In college, I also did well, especially now that I could ditch the math courses and only needed one science course.  I hated school up until high school, when I began to actually like it, for the most part.  I loved college.

However, all through my school years I had trouble paying attention during lectures.  Even if I was interested in a subject, the slightest thing could remind me of something else and take my mind off on its own tangents, so that I’d miss something I had anxiously wanted to hear.  It was even worse if I wasn’t interested.  I often had to find things in my textbook to get more details.

It’s common for kids with NVLD to have trouble taking notes during class lectures.  It’s hard to sort out the important points from things that are merely interesting, since to an NVLD kid all the details seem important.  And while you’re writing, the teacher moves on to another point, which you miss.

Yet taking notes is a must during class lectures.  I don’t know if we had miniature tape recorders in those days; maybe I never heard of them, or never thought of using one.  I loved it when teachers handed out study sheets or class lecture outlines.

But because this usually did not happen, as a freshman in high school, I developed my own system of shorthand symbols to help me take notes more quickly.  Some symbols came from the Martian alphabets I’d invented in middle school.

Some were borrowed from the various disciplines, such as the three dots used in geometry theorems for “therefore.”  Many were based on what image seemed to fit the word, such as a right-pointing arrow for “to” or a square (box) for “in.”  I’d tailor the shorthand for each class (or, after college, for each job), since each had different jargon.

My sophomore English teacher caught a glimpse of my shorthand one day, asked about it, and I explained it.  She was impressed.  I noticed some kids around me giggling as if I were weird to invent such a thing.  But it was one of the many compensations I developed for my academic survival.

I still use the shorthand occasionally.  It has evolved over the years.  For example, the “at” symbol was taken from the Red Baron’s bullet holes in Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel.  You know, “rat-a-tat-tat,” “at.”  But now, I use the symbol @ which is used on the Internet and has become ubiquitous in American culture around the turn of the 21st century.

I also use “u” for “you” and “ur” for “your,” which kids were doing on the BBS’s back in the mid-90s and kept on doing as the Internet and text messages grew in popularity.  I also have to concentrate very hard to catch all the points I need to write down, whether in a sermon, dictation, documentary, or whatever.

Considering the state of my school papers in 7th grade, and how long that school year was, I was probably depressed all year.  I wasn’t usually depressed in high school or college, except during certain periods, such as after a breakup.  Depression is a common state for NVLD kids.

I had an awful time trying to tell which boys were or were not interested in me.  I’d think one was passionately in love with me, but when I tried to go out with him, he’d reject me.  I’d think the same about another, but he’d never ask me out.  Meanwhile, I had a friend who seemed to just like me as a friend, only to find years later that he had been passionately in love with me.

One evening, I went to a Petra concert with the Campus Life groups from city schools.  As usual with Christian bands, they did an altar call after the concert.  At one point during the altar call, the other kids in my group got up and left with the leader, but I figured they were all going up to the altar call.  Altar calls were for the unsaved, not me, so I waited for them to return.

They never came back, and I was stranded for some time until I found a pay phone and called home.  I can only imagine that, since the other kids knew what was going on, I somehow misunderstood because of my NLD.

As for other traits, I have always been clumsy, often forgetting how I got black and blue marks on my legs, or running into doorknobs or walls or tables or the edges of open doors.

If I have to read and understand a complex text, such as theology, I have to read it slowly with no distractions.  If I’m not interested in a subject, I may not comprehend it at all.  Oftentimes I’ll get through a newspaper article, for example, and have no clue what I just read.

But I do love to read.  As a teenager, I would say that I loved to read the novel version of a movie or Doctor Who episode I had watched, so I could “find out what they’re thinking.”  The book would help me to understand the movie better.

New situations have always scared me or made me freeze up, unable to do anything because I don’t know what to do or say: job interviews, driving situations, dealing with a customer with a problem (while an agent assistant) or an agent (while an insurance clerk), or social situations.

This is very similar to and probably related to selective mutism, which is, essentially, part of extreme shyness, and can be caused by anxiety over unfamiliar situations.

Memory. Memory for tactile and visual input is poor. Relative deficiencies in these areas tend to increase over the course of development, except for material that is programmatic and overlearned (e.g., spoken natural language).

Memory for nonverbal material, whether presented through the auditory, visual, or tactile modalities, is poor if such material is not readily coded in a verbal fashion. Relatively poor memory for complex, meaningful, and/or novel verbal and nonverbal material is typical.

Differences between good to excellent memory for rote material and impaired memory for complex material and/or that which is not readily coded in a verbal fashion tend to increase with age. —p. 158, Practice of Child-Clinical Neuropsychology, Byron Rourke

I do have trouble retaining much of what I read.  I can get through an entire novel but forget parts of it.  Textbooks are especially hard to retain.  It caused a lot of trouble when taking tests on history, for example, so I’m not sure how I did so well in World Civ–maybe because the tests were essay questions.

I learned how to drive 22 years ago (1990), took driver’s ed, got a license, drove to the next county to work for two and a half years, still keep my license up-to-date.  But that did not get rid of the fear.

In fact, the fear was reinforced with my first car, a beater with all sorts of problems: stiff gearshift, power windows which didn’t behave in cold weather, leaky oil, constantly needing to go to the shop and get more work done.  It would get worked on, and I’d drive it to work only to find some new thing wrong with it, like the time the steering wheel started shimmying at high speeds.

Another time, the darn thing just suddenly started slowing down on the highway, I couldn’t get it back up, and I had to pull to the side, check oil, etc., having no idea what was wrong with it, then it just started working again.  (I’d give more detail, but that was some 15 years ago or so now.)  [Update 6/18/14: Oddly enough, I found out through the Left Behind series what happened: engine lock.  See this post for more.]

With a drive of nearly an hour across a two-lane highway to get to work, in all sorts of weather (such as some pretty nasty blizzards), watching for deer and tractors, and occasionally getting scared by seeing road work ahead (detours terrified me because I could get terribly lost), I was constantly afraid of the thing breaking down along the way.  My husband didn’t understand until he had to drive the thing to another state one time, and then he realized just how bad a car I had.

But it wasn’t just that.  I had a terrible time maneuvering the thing, such as around curves and when making turns, and nearly got into accidents with it because of that.  I almost went off the road on a very curvy and narrow rural road.  I don’t think that was the car’s fault.

I got lost on the way to an interview in the next county.  That same day, I also got terribly lost when going to get my stuff from college and take it to my new apartment.  I should’ve known the way, having ridden that way many times over the past four years.  But I got so lost that I was terrified.

Now, some people with NVLD can drive but can’t ride bicycles, though they might have navigation problems.  I learned late, but can ride a bicycle just fine.

But driving terrified me so much that even after getting a license (which was a feat in itself), I avoided driving whenever possible.

If I were just shy, then why did I have so much trouble with driving that I felt like the only teenager in the country who didn’t want a license?  If I were just introverted, then why did even the introverts find me hard to get to know, why did I get lost so easily while driving, why did my aunt proclaim to my mom that she couldn’t do anything with me, why did my mom take me to a psychologist in the mid-80s?

Why did I make so many stupid mistakes while driving that I sometimes feared for my life, why did I have so much trouble maneuvering the car into a car wash that I swore off automatic car washes and stopped going to that place out of shame, why did I have so much trouble maneuvering the car, period, why did I get so lost while driving even on roads I thought I knew, why did I study the map over and over yet still go the wrong way, why did I have to give up driving just to restore my shattered self-esteem?  (I’m not an idiot, yet driving made me feel like one, again and again and again.)  I knew introverts and shy people who didn’t have these problems!

Over time I lost the rubber legs from driving home from work, as I grew more familiar with driving that route, and knew what traffic signals/lanes to expect where.  But the thought of driving anywhere else filled me with dread and anxiety, actually gave me panic attacks at times.

I was already afraid of driving before I started, but my lack of ability to do the maneuvers or find my way or obey the signals or deal with unexpected circumstances without a great amount of difficulty, even when I’d been driving to work for a couple of years, made me even more convinced that I should not be doing it, for everyone’s safety, no matter how much it has hamstrung my ability to do much of anything that requires leaving the house.

In driver’s ed, I did well on written tests, so even though I had trouble getting through the reading every night (which took me hours), I must have been retaining the laws–probably because of lectures the following day and in-classroom quizzes.  The teacher told my parents that I knew the laws.

But the driving instructor, on the other hand, only grudgingly gave me a waiver of the state’s driving test, after I took the class’s final driving test twice and passed the second time.  So even though some people (such as my ex Phil or my brother) would say, “Don’t you have a license?”–that wasn’t really enough to make me comfortable or competent behind the wheel.

This was long before the days of graduated licenses or more stringent laws on required hours of driving instruction, but the instructor never used one of those driving simulator machines before putting us on the streets.  He just spent fifteen minutes teaching each of us to drive around the parking lot, then after that took us straight onto the busy streets around the school.

This was fine for the two guys in my car who had already been driving illegally, but not for us two girls who had been following the laws.  (Oddly, those two guys did not get waivers, but probably because they were cocky and liked to make fun of pedestrians, which annoyed the instructor.)

When I took driver’s ed, we were supposed to fill in a map of street names and other landmarks while in our assigned car and waiting for our turn to drive.  I did very poorly on this map.

My car’s instructor took our permits away (to make sure we never showed up without them), so I got very little practice.  He was always hitting his brake when I drove.  I was frustrated to no end because he’d tell me to go, I’d look and see cars coming, hesitate maybe a few seconds, start to pull out–and he’d hit the brake, saying I waited too long.

Which I most likely did, but it demonstrates that I had trouble figuring out when it was safe to turn, how far away the cars were, etc. I’m not blind, and don’t have any other visual problems such as lack of depth perception, color blindness, tunnel vision, etc.  But I do have trouble determining how soon the cars will bear down on me, so people (in other cars or in my own) have gotten frustrated with me as I sit and wait.

This also causes me trouble crossing streets on foot, though you could argue that because this has made me especially cautious, it’s also kept me alive.  It has also made me more compassionate with other drivers, because it is my philosophy (and what I will tell my son) that only that driver can tell if it’s safe to turn or not, not the people behind who don’t see what he sees.

I’ve always had trouble explaining why I don’t want to drive: People usually think I should just be able to get in the car and drive.  One ex-boyfriend, Phil, talked down to me like I should be able to just get into the car and drive, and he’d yell at me for not doing it.  He’d refuse to drive me someplace, even when I had no other way of getting there.  He said he wasn’t a taxicab.  As Dr. Phil said on one show, if you try to do “therapy” by making a person “face her fear,” you’re really just being a bully.

It didn’t help that with my first car, I was trying to learn stick on an old car with stiff gears.  By the time I got a decent car, the damage had been done.  My work commute became familiar, but when I stopped working at my first job, I started driving less and less until, now, I don’t drive at all.

Once, I planned to drive myself to a party when hubby was out of town, but got so panicky that it affected me physically and I had to stay home.  It helps to have someone with me or in the car ahead of me to help me navigate, but without that, I don’t even want to try.  I don’t want to kill anyone, you see.

My hometown was a scary city to navigate, because not only did I have to concentrate very hard just to do the driving halfway decently, but there were so many cars doing unpredictable things, and so many lanes, so many signs, so many one-way streets, so many twists and turns to get to a destination.

When I moved away from home to a much smaller city in another state, there were different traffic laws, lights which would turn to blinking red or blinking yellow after 10pm–even streetlights were positioned differently over the intersections.

I was confused by many things: I had an awful time parking.  I did not know that it was illegal to turn left on red–I could swear the driving instructor said you could turn left on red, but you had to do it very carefully.

[Update: Actually, in Indiana, left turns on red from one one-way street to another are legal, so maybe that was the context of my instructor’s words.]

I had the rules for four-way stops backwards (that it goes “to the right”–i.e., the person on the left goes first and then the car to the right of that car, counter-clockwise–rather than the person on the right, clockwise).

The driver behind me would see an empty space for turning, where I saw a wall of cars–hence, I got honked at a lot, which startled me and upset me for hours afterwards.  I often tried to use maps, but they made little sense to me, I could not retain what I saw, and I got so confused by whether to turn right or left, that I often got terribly lost.  Getting lost frightened me.

I had no clue why I had such a hard time driving, and could only think that I should just get off the road.  But of course, even though people say bad drivers should get off the road, if one does so, they chide him for not driving when “everybody has to do it.”

Even before I started driving, cars scared me: I was fine as a passenger, but I always crossed the road extra carefully.  One year, I had to cross a busy street to get to my bus stop–yes, I know, poor planning on the school’s part.  The kids would stand at the bus stop and jeer at me for not crossing, saying I had plenty of time, when all I saw were cars coming right at me very quickly.  Trying to turn as a driver felt like that all over again; the honks were the jeers of my classmates.

I walked to my next job (1999-2003), only ten minutes away, walking in all sorts of weather despite having a car.  It was wonderful.

Fear of driving is more common than you might think in this car-obsessed nation.  But while many people can overcome it through baby steps and practice, I still have mine–despite driving from one county to another every week day for two and a half years.  Too much happens at once, I get lost easily, I have to navigate while following road rules and trying not to run into anything, and unexpected situations cause panic.

It is not a phobia, or irrational fear, if it is linked to NVLD; maybe it’s better for everyone if I don’t drive, at least until I find someone who can teach me how to compensate for my weaknesses while driving.  The last letter here sums up my feelings quite well:

Also, when I did drive, I was always scared that something would go flat, the battery would go out, etc. etc. I was always scared when I drove and that is not good when on the road. I found that by taking myself off the road, that I am being considerate of other people and their lives.

However, it is very frustrating when you “take yourself off the road” and people accuse you of immaturity or not doing what you need to do as an adult.  (Maybe if they saw you drive, they’d feel differently.)  Yet another time you will hear them complain about “bad drivers” and people who shouldn’t have been given driver’s licenses!

There are times when I see how it can affect my life to not be able to drive, especially if something were to happen to hubby.  But I don’t feel I have a choice.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered that trouble with and fear of driving is common with learning disorders, as is being misunderstood by “normal” people.  Lots of people, men and women, are afraid of driving; I don’t know how many of them have learning disorders, but I have found some of them in real life and on the Internet.  It makes sense, when you think of how lethal a car can be, that some will refuse to do it despite the inconvenience of not driving.

Even Barbara Walters–a wildly successful and well-respected woman–is afraid to drive.  (She said this on Oprah one day when I just happened to flip on the program.  The episode aired on September 16, 2004.)

Quincy Jones also does not drive.  Shemp of the Three Stooges also was too scared to drive.

It also helps to know that people with NVLD can eventually master driving, so if I must do it again, I may still be able to do it.  ”Some will drive, some will not” (source).

My terror at driving never left, except after many months of driving to my first job, I finally felt comfortable doing that–as long as I did not have to do a detour.  Detours meant I could get hopelessly lost.  If I could follow a car, I’d be okay, but not alone.  My main route was torn up for quite some time, and various detours would be set up.  These detours confused me considerably, and I often found myself quite lost, unable to read the map.

When driving, I’d make various errors that seemed to make sense at the time, but someone would honk and I’d feel like an idiot for not realizing that was dangerous or seeing what was really going on with the roadway.  A curved, two-lane, one-way street appeared to be becoming one lane, so I desperately tried to get over, one day on a detour.  The cars honked; I soon discovered the lane was not ending at all, but was an optical illusion.

One day, I thought I could drive to my interview in the next county, then to a fast-food restaurant for lunch, then to my old campus to get some stuff I’d left in storage….This is when I got turned around and was an hour late to the interview, because I kept misinterpreting which direction I was supposed to turn from Peters onto Johnson.

I kept getting confused on which way to turn onto Johnson St.  I studied the map and thought I now knew exactly which direction to go on Johnson St.  But I still went the wrong way for quite a while before realizing my mistake.  But I got there, explained what happened, and still got the job.

I then went to my campus in that county to pick up some belongings I had stored there.  I figured I’d been on that road so many times that I knew it like the back of my hand.  But I ended up hopelessly lost, scared, afraid I’d run out of gas and die on one of the back roads I was wandering.

When I did find a gas station, I couldn’t even get around without hitting the building.  I asked for directions and got back on the highway, finding my way all right after that.

There were other things: A time my then-boyfriend, now-husband, asked me to drive to a place on 4th Street to get an extra key made.  I never did find the place, and went back home, distraught and scared.

I tried to use an automatic car wash: First the automatic windows froze in the frigid weather on my 10-year-old car, and I couldn’t get them back up before my ticket expired.  Then I couldn’t get my car centered on the risers on the ramp, so the car wash didn’t work.  An attendant finally had to help me get my car in the right spot.

I went home and cried in mortification and devastation to my fiancé, wondering why on earth I had so much trouble with a car wash.  He didn’t understand it, either, but fortunately this fiancé did not judge me like the first one, Phil, did.  Instead, he showed me a different, manual car wash where you simply hose down your car, so I never drove through an automatic car wash again.

Other things happened that led to accidents, or my judgment was somehow so screwed up that I didn’t know what to do after an accident.  I felt like an absolute freak, because my brain just wouldn’t let me act like “normal” people in these situations, and kept failing me again and again when I was supposed to be so smart.

I had so much trouble with driving that I finally decided I was too incompetent to keep putting myself and others at risk. Unfortunately, that decision has led to much shame because people don’t understand why a grown adult can’t do such a “simple” thing as drive a car, and think it’s some sort of immature refusal to do what must be done.  (At least, that’s what it feels like to me.)  I couldn’t understand it, either, and wished people would stop judging and just let me be a non-driver.

Phil stayed a summer with my parents and me.  He took a few jobs while there.  He chided me with, “How could you not know your way around the city you’ve lived in all your life?”  I shot back with, “How am I supposed to know my way around it when I haven’t even been everywhere in the city?”  By the end of the summer, he boasted that he knew his way around the city much better than I did.

Google Maps has been a Godsend: Not only do you get a map right in the area you need, but you get routes mapped out for you, verbal directions, and a photo of the intersections.  I like to print them all up to ensure that I find my way.  I don’t drive anymore, but do often read the directions for my husband when we’re going someplace.  That is, when he hasn’t already looked at the map once and memorized where to go.  [grumble]

Recently, however (summer 2012), I was able to buy a new bicycle.  Here is new freedom!  For much of the year, until the snow falls and the ice forms, I can ride my bike to all sorts of places that otherwise would take an hour to walk.  I can ride it to church, since my husband goes elsewhere.  I can ride it to vote, now that our polling place has been moved from its convenient spot next door.

In that rare case when hubby’s not able to take me someplace I need to go, I can use my bike, call a cab (we have several different cab companies at reasonable rates in this town), or use the bus (if it happens to be running).

The bike is also a lot of fun, now that–after 20 years–I have gotten over my rustiness.  I got a simple one, no gears, no different speeds, just push back on the pedals to stop.  I never liked ten-speeds, never wanted to deal with that.  I like simple machines that I can understand and operate simply.  Unlike a car.

My first day of college, I had trouble finding my way around, even with a campus map.  I had an awful time that evening finding my way from a social event at the gym that night, to my suite–only to find (to my amusement) that it was right next door with only a parking lot between them.

Some things I pick up quickly, such as computer skills, while some things need more practice, such as changing a baby’s diaper or doing insurance policy changes.  But once I master a routine task, I do it well, such as housework, filing, or figuring out a grocery list.

I don’t do so well when something unexpected happens, or I meet new people.  You need to become familiar to me before I can talk to you easily, and even then I don’t always know what to say.  Some people have misunderstood me and considered me stand-offish or shifty or rude, when really I’m just quiet and shy.

My husband has noted that I’m methodical: I like to know how something is going to end before I start it; if I don’t, I tend to freeze up and stand still rather than risk things going wrong.  I like to know what’s going to happen and have a good idea of how I’m going to deal with it.  I need plans, routines, schedules.  If I don’t know what’s going to happen, if something unexpected happens, if something disrupts the routine, I panic.  (One reason why driving is so stressful for me.)

I even prefer to be with people I’ve already spent much time with, and don’t much like meeting new people.  But I’m not totally inflexible, either.  An explanation of such matters, and how NLDers often end up isolated and withdrawing (like me), is here.

My fourth-grade teacher said I’d probably become a hermit.  I couldn’t imagine becoming like those old guys in movies who live alone out in the wilderness.  Still, the modern-day use of the word does unfortunately seem to fit–but not because I want to be a hermit.

Sometimes I am simply unable to improve certain matters of job performance; for this reason, I do not always get the good raises.

I don’t like wearing jeans, turtlenecks, sweaters, or anything else scratchy or tight.  As a small child, I had to wear tights every Sunday; I couldn’t stand the things, which were very itchy, and would take them off at home.

I couldn’t stand the mid-80s fashion craze of extremely narrow hems on jeans, since I struggled to put them on over my ankles every morning.  Because I didn’t know what was going on in fashion, I also had no idea why all my new jeans had narrow hems.

At the same time, I had three sweaters which–since my mom washed the clothes every few days–I was able to wear twice a week to school.  Two of them were soft and I could stand them just fine.  But the third–acrylic–began to bug me so much that I would take it off when I got home.

I forget what I put on instead; maybe a nightgown.  It itched like mad, and I couldn’t stand the hems of the sleeves, where the knitting ends.  So I only wore it on Wednesday so I would only have to wear it once a week.  Other kids noticed that I always wore it on Wednesdays, but I just couldn’t stand to alter this to please them.

Ever since then, I’ve resisted wearing sweaters.  In the late 90s I was given a shirt as a gift which I believe was a tight-woven, soft sweater, and I tried wearing a shirt under it to minimize the itching, but I still could barely stand it.

In the mid-90s, I bought a beautiful velvet shirt, but couldn’t stand to wear it because the sleeves were so tight I couldn’t even roll them up.

I resisted wearing pantyhose as long as I could, preferring to wear socks, until I realized that no other teenage girls my age wore socks with their dresses.  I couldn’t stand the feel of pantyhose all along my leg, or the way they feel against my underwear, so I was happy to discover knee-high nylons.  They felt almost like the trouser socks I preferred, I could get them in white or black instead of that icky “nude” color, so they were a good compromise to wear with my normally long skirts.

I have always preferred knee high socks (though I soon discovered in high school that people think they look funny with shorts) because I didn’t like the feel of short socks on my legs, except when I’m wearing shorts or capris.  Then it’s too hot and funny looking to wear high socks, so I wear little ones.

But for pants, nobody could tell how high my socks were, so my own comfort was the only consideration.  It was even better when trouser socks first came out, because they’re light and soft and stay put instead of always slipping down.

But I had no idea until maybe my mid- or late-20s that you were supposed to match your socks with your pants, or that you weren’t supposed to wear high socks with the short pants that came in fashion around that time, which might explain some of the funny looks I got from other women.  (Guys didn’t seem to care if I committed huge fashion don’t’s.)

In college, two guys tried to lecture me on how I should dress, because I didn’t “dress to impress,” as one put it.  (That one also said I was the only girl he knew who didn’t do this instinctively.  I guess he never met my roommate?)  But I had been complimented by girls on my clothing choices, and liked wearing pretty things, so I don’t know what he meant by this.

In any case, rather than follow current fashions, I wore what I could stand: soft fabrics, loose waists, no sweaters, and (by high school) no jeans.  I also had a strong sense of modesty.  I didn’t mind showing off curves, but I had to be comfy when doing it.  And no way would I show much skin, except for my arms or a modest pair of shorts.

Even when I did know what the latest fashions were, it made no difference if I didn’t like how they felt, such as the leggings trend in the mid-90s, when all the ladies at my first job wore leggings or stirrup pants, but I couldn’t stand how they felt on my legs.

I’ve never liked bellbottoms, and stopped wearing those rough jeans in high school, so I’ve been avoiding most current pant fashions for the past 15 years.  I wear simple, timeless pants that aren’t tight around the waist or the legs–even if I have to go online to an old ladies’ store to find them!  I save my fashion sense for my blouses, which are usually more comfortable, as long as they’re soft and the sleeves aren’t tiny and tight.

I’m constantly tugging at my clothes–pants waistband, shirt, sleeves–because they’re uncomfortable if they don’t stay where they’re supposed to.  I can’t imagine wearing low-rise pants, or even mid-rise, because they’re not around the waist where they belong.

When I get into bed, I have to tug my nightgown into place because it’s bunching up here or there, or tugging so that my arm’s going to feel sore.  The sheets have to be in just the right places, too, so I don’t get cold or so I can muffle noises.  It’s not so bad when I’ve been sleeping for a while and everything has gotten comfortable right where it is, but when I’m first going to bed, anything in the wrong place is annoying.

I tried wearing watches, but by maybe middle school, I stopped completely.  I can’t stand how it feels.  I also can’t stand bracelets.  Instead, I carried a watch in my pocket or bag, or wore necklace-watches.  In modern times, I simply check my cell phone.  While the last is apparently what new generations do anyway, that just means my quirk is finally fashionable.

As for glasses, I had to get used to them because of severe nearsightedness and the fact that wearing contacts drove me crazy.  All that constant dryness and irritations getting underneath the contacts!  But getting glasses to sit comfortably on my nose is a constant irritant.  They’ll slip down.  Or they’ll move slightly one way or another, so I’ll fiddle with them until they seem comfortable again.  Since I don’t see other people doing this, and it’s basically the same with various pairs, I suspect NVLD causes them to be so annoying.

I don’t like loud voices, which annoy me and make me yawn, especially when the person is sitting right beside me.  I can’t stand the high volumes at clubs.  Occasionally, somebody will say something but it doesn’t register in my brain just what they said, even though there is no problem with my hearing.  A moment or two later, it seems to “echo” in my mind and then I know what they said (similar to Central Auditory Processing Disorder, or CAPD?).

I can’t stand the taste of chili powder or chili beans.

I don’t seem to have a problem with face blindness, though there have been times when I saw someone out of their usual context, didn’t recognize them, then thought later, “Wait, was that–?”

As a child, I often got annoyed by people asking, “What’s wrong?” when nothing was wrong.  As an adult, I often get annoyed by, “You’re so quiet” or “Smile!”

From NLDline comes this list of NVLD traits:

The assets include early speech and vocabulary development, remarkable rote memory skills, attention to detail, early reading skills development and excellent spelling skills.

In addition, these individuals have the verbal ability to express themselves eloquently.  Moreover, persons with NLD have strong auditory retention.  Four major categories of deficits and dysfunction also present themselves:

  • motoric (lack of coordination, severe balance problems, and difficulties with graphomotor skills).
  • visual-spatial-organizational (lack of image, poor visual recall, faulty spatial perceptions, difficulties with executive functioning* and problems with spatial relations).
  • social (lack of ability to comprehend nonverbal communication, difficulties adjusting to transitions and novel situations, and deficits in social judgment and social interaction).
  • sensory (sensitivity in any of the sensory modes: visual, auditory, tactile, taste or olfactory)
  • *definition of executive functioning:  Neuropsychological functions including, but perhaps not limited to, decision making, planning, initiative, assigning priority, sequencing, motor control, emotional regulation, inhibition, problem solving, planning, impulse control, establishing goals, monitoring results of action, self-correcting.  From http://www.behavenet.com/

Some things were far worse for me as a child, such as handwriting, schoolwork and social interaction.  There are many things I’ve picked up over the years, more slowly than someone with a “normal” brain might pick them up, but I picked them up nevertheless.  Many NVLD deficits can be compensated for, either through lots of practice or doing things in other ways than a “normal” brained person would do them.

One way I compensate is through schedules.  I had terrible organization of my desk and room growing up, but when I went off to college, I decided I would be a good roommate.  I wrote in my day planner when to dust, when to do laundry, when to dustmop the floor, when to wash sheets, etc.  I also forced myself to be more organized.

My boyfriend Peter seemed to find it funny that I alphabetized my cassette tapes, but it kept them in order and helped me to find them easily.  Nowadays, I still alphabetize my music, and as a housewife, my daily schedules are more complex.

I have learned to be somewhat flexible with the schedules when necessary, though it can make me anxious when a change is forced on me: a holiday falling on a weekday and disrupting that day’s normal routine and laundry, for example.  My husband loves my schedules because they keep the house and the laundry clean.  Some people with NLD stay messy; some become very organized.  I don’t like being forced to stop something I’m working on in order to do something else.

Whether someone grew up knowing they had a learning disability and received special education services, or they have struggled with learning difficulties without ever knowing exactly what their problems were, they are probably now in command of a number of techniques that make life easier.

Over the years, they have figured out ways to get and keep track of the information they need, and developed systems for helping them to get and stay organized. —Nonverbal learning disabilities for adults

It helps a great deal to have a teacher or counselor who can tell you the normal way of doing things and teach you compensations: Many children who were diagnosed early are now excelling at life and school, while many NVLD adults who were not diagnosed until much later, still struggle.

Though I remember very little about the sessions, I do remember seeing a psychologist in late elementary school; this did help me somewhat with social situations.  We must have done more than sit and talk about my life; the psychologist must have given me social tips.

When I visited the school counselor in college, she kept wanting to talk about my shyness when I wanted to know why I had so much trouble extricating myself from my dysfunctional relationship with Shawn.

I did feel stronger inside after seeing the counselor, but she didn’t find and fix the basis for all my social problems and tendency to end up with guys who were all wrong for me, since the following year I ended up with an emotional abuser, Phil.

Apparently psychotherapy isn’t really all that helpful for NLDers if it expects them to have insights about their life, rather than giving them concrete tips.

But in those days, nobody had heard of learning disabilities other than dyslexia!  If you did well in school, that was that, and if you had social problems, you were on your own (except for the occasional baffling chiding from teachers or peers).  On February 24, 1992, when I was 18, I wrote in my diary:

First, for so many of my school years I felt ostracized.  I made friends easily [or so I thought, though looking back I didn’t], but still people would tease me about the way I walked, or being weird, or playing with my hands until about the end of the fourth grade, or whatever.  Even my best friend from down the street ended up treating me bad.

This is probably why I closed off around fifth or sixth grade and had to go to a psychologist (who, by the way, was the first person to hypnotize me).  I’ve never fully recovered from a sense of weirdness, even though I’ve made great progress.

I actually felt “not weird” for a time senior year, until those guys in art class shot me back down and humiliated me.  I still get this sense of insecurity every once in a while.

Second, part of the reason for my “ostracism” was probably the type of child I was.  I’ve read about it in the newspaper.  There’s a type of child that never picks up on all of the rules of body language, and their peers think they’re weird because they can’t relate to each other.

That was me.  I was, in a sense, in my own little world.  I never even learned the basics of social interaction and common courtesy, which I didn’t start to pick up on until I was going to my psychologist.

Even saying “hi” was foreign to me.  I finally got myself saying “hi” and eventually “bye” whenever someone said it to me, but I’ve only recently been able to start saying it first.  I’m still studying my peers to see what you do in certain situations.  Also, just ask my mom, she always had trouble getting me to say “thank you.”

As I said, I was in my own little world, and I didn’t learn these things, not even when my parents tried to teach me.  I’m still often uncertain what to do.

Third, I don’t always know why I do things.  I don’t know for sure why I refused to go up to [a friend’s] house that night [when I was with my boyfriend].  I think maybe my subconscious was afraid her parents would think, “What in the world are you doing out at this hour?  And who’s he [my boyfriend]?  [She’s] not even here.”

[Actually, it’s quite simple: I figured social conventions would be against me showing up late in the evening unannounced, especially if she didn’t know I was in town.  Here, the boyfriend was probably the one in the wrong about social rules.] …

I don’t know for sure why I’m so afraid of driving.  Maybe I’m just afraid of cars; I don’t know.

I also don’t know for sure why I didn’t want to go “midnight sledding” with my friends last Friday night.  I guess I’m just not one for spontaneity.  If I’ve already planned or expected my day or evening to go one way, a sudden change is unwelcome, no matter what it is.

If it’s a dance not announced previously, I probably won’t go.  If it’s a change of plans for a date, such as rollerskating instead of the movies, I’ll probably choose the original plan, no matter how much I like rollerskating.

I don’t even know why this is.  Maybe I just like to know what’s going to happen.

This is who I am, and you’ll have to take me this way.

I eventually forgot about that newspaper article, until I discovered NLD in February 2000 and recognized myself, everything about my life finally explained.

Every NVLD person is different; I do better in some deficit categories than in others.  For example, I do have some artistic abilities (though my drawing is simple and focuses on people and their clothing), I have a good sense of humor, I never had trouble staying in a chair, don’t have to talk my way through every single thing I do, don’t have to concentrate just to walk through a room, can keep my words in my head when I do talk myself through something, and am capable of visualizing.

But from what I’ve learned about how other people see the world, my visualization is impaired, just as my vision is very near-sighted and I must wear glasses to drive.  To compare visualization with sight, some NVLD people are “blind” and can’t visualize at all; I am “impaired.”

I can see some streets clearly in my head, but most are fuzzy, even though I’ve been living in the same city for 17 or 18 years.  I couldn’t tell you how to get to the local Home Depot, even though I’ve been there many times.

I’m terrible at giving directions; in most cases, I need a map in front of me, or I need to actually be with you as you go down the street to find the place, even if I’ve been there many times.  Even then, there’s no guarantee I can get you there; if I can, I’m jubilant.

Even if I’ve been taken somewhere many times, I easily get lost trying to go there by myself.  I may remember a few street signs or landmarks, but not know how to get from point A to point B.

When I read a book, unless I have pictures of the characters, or have seen them in a movie (such as the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series), they are fuzzy in my head.  They are basically balls of light or white clouds, doing the actions and saying the words.  In my teens and early adulthood, I liked to draw pictures of the characters in classic novels so I could visualize them, their clothing and hair.

Sometimes, if the author has made a character especially vivid, such as in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels or Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series, I can “see” the character very well.  But the other characters are usually fuzzy.  I often like to see a movie of a book after reading it, so I can “see” the characters and actions.  Conversely, after seeing a movie or a TV show, I like to read the original novel or tie-in novelization to find out what the characters are thinking.

When given multi-step directions, I try to remember all the steps verbally, but this is too much at once.  So I don’t remember them, and have to watch other people first to see what they do.  (This is very similar to selective mutism, in which a person watches others do an activity before feeling comfortable enough to join in.)  Until very recently, I had no idea that other people remember such directions by visualizing themselves doing each step.  I don’t do that.

I have trouble focusing on multi-step directions of any kind, and often forget each step right after it’s been told me, from game directions to folding palm frond crosses to driving directions.  They have to be written down for me to grasp them.  But once written down, I can learn them very quickly.

I also have trouble focusing or concentrating on things I read that don’t interest me, so I often have trouble remembering anything I’ve read in newspaper articles, Bible chapters, political walls of text written on forums, boring books, textbooks and the like, even moments after I’ve read them.  While a topic that interests me, I can read, understand and remember, such as a blog about religious issues or a novel.

In January 2011, I posted this on an NLD forum:

This evening, while watching the latest “Doctor Who” (A Christmas Carol), my husband and I saw a commercial for a new movie called “The King’s Speech.”

There was narration, but it was more along the lines of hawking the actors and the great acting than of actually explaining the story.  Not the nice long trailers you see in the movie theater, but a truncated version.

All I got out of it was, two guys in old-fashioned, obviously wealthy suits (one must be a king), and Helena Bonham Carter.

I remarked at the end, yes it’s critically acclaimed, “But what is it *about*?”  Hubby then proceeded to tell me the plot–something about a king who stutters, realizes he’ll sound terrible on the new invention of radio, so he gets tutors to help him speak properly.  He tells me he got all this not from googling it or anything, but from that very trailer!

I had mentioned just before we started watching Dr. Who that evening that in the modern episodes, they talk so quickly that I can’t keep up with or understand their accents or the various technologies and plot points they’re explaining.

(The old episodes, Doctors 1-7, could get confusing, but at least they moved and spoke more slowly, so I picked up much more.)  So I’m often lost at what’s really going on.  I’m left with, “Well whatever’s going on, he has to save Amy Pond from the monster.  And something about this will cause all of Earth will be destroyed if he fails.”

I do what I can to keep up, but keep missing so many points all along that I couldn’t really tell you what happened, other than a few basic things.

Well, now hubby admitted that he’s able to keep up with the fast talking and accents, understand all the explanations, pick out the important bits, and know exactly what’s going on.  So we were left with the question:

Which one of us is the “normal” one?  And could all these fast Hollywood-style modern movies and TV shows, and the modern ways of doing things, be the reason why things like NLD and Asperger’s are becoming more noticed?

I don’t have trouble with recognizing characters unless two look very much alike, or following a general plot, but I have an awful time with high-paced movies like the movie “Batman Begins.”  A guy friend showed it to my hubby and me, saying how wonderful it was, but I thought it was a garbled mess.

I mostly watch “chick flicky” type movies like Jane Austen, Anne of Green Gables, or the like, because they slow down and talk a lot.  It also gives me a chance to actually study the characters’ body language and learn how to interpret better.

But when it starts moving way too fast or they start talking way too fast (especially with accents), I get lost.  😛

The forum’s responses were full of agreement, other people with NLD with the same problem.  In fact, one person said that the marketers want their ads to work, so if they lost most people, they would know and not make such ads.

On 6/21 and 6/22/11 (split for time considerations), I watched the movie Spirit of the Beehive on TCM.  It’s a Spanish movie; I thought the subtitles would help me catch everything (since I occasionally miss spoken words), but no, it didn’t.  There were a lot of things done via visuals that just seemed meaningless to me. But I had no idea how much I missed until I read the summary on Wikipedia.

I went there in the first place because I was very confused by the whole movie: Who is that guy in the barn?  Who has Teresa been writing to, a brother, a friend, a cousin?  (I thought it was her husband Fernando, and that they were separated, only to find–near the end of the movie–that they live in the same house.)

Was the guy in the barn the guy she was writing to, some indigent relative whom her daughters don’t know?  Why was he killed?  Did Teresa burn the letter because it was him and he’s dead now, so why bother?  Why did they give his stuff to Fernando? etc. etc. etc.

The summary was full of things I completely missed.  For example, I didn’t catch that Ana gave the watch and coat to the guy in the barn.  I didn’t catch that “The father discovers which of the daughters had helped the fugitive by noticing Ana’s reaction when he produces the pocket watch she had given to him.”

That scene was completely visual, except for the sound of the watch, which plays a tune.  Instead, I thought he first suspected that she knew the guy, when he found her at the barn, looking at the blood.

I also didn’t catch that Teresa putting a coat over her sleeping husband’s shoulders was anything more than a typical, caring gesture.  Of course I missed the political symbolism: It was meant to be veiled, because of censorship, and I didn’t know a thing about Spanish modern history.

I feel like I catch many things generally, especially in movies, but occasionally something like this comes along and shows me that I’ve missed a lot of things….

To be continued….

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