I have always had trouble with estimating time, though over the years I’ve gotten much better about getting places on time. My parents were always getting mad at me for this, but I didn’t know of anything I could do about it.
I have noticed that I seem to take longer doing things than other people do in many cases, such as reading, homework, tests, housework, tasks at a job, even a test of my proofreading and other skills which I took when applying at a temp agency when I was about to graduate college. It took me far longer than anyone else who had ever taken their test, but I got a perfect score, unlike anyone else.
I take time and focus on the details, so it may take longer, but it is done well. With reading, I also read every word, unlike Cugan, who tells me that he speeds through books. I don’t know how he can really say he read something if he doesn’t read every word, or how common this is.
I don’t like wearing jeans or twill or dockers because they are too stiff. I don’t like the feel of the collar or wristbands of sweatshirts. I don’t wear sweaters because I don’t like the feel of the knits or the itch of wool and acrylic. I can’t stand turtlenecks or tight clothing. I like soft, loose-fitting clothes and flat shoes.
I don’t like food that is too spicy or hot. Since so many people consider jeans, sweatshirts, sweaters, etc. to be very comfortable, and so many people love Mexican food and the like, I can only conclude that I am sensitive to how things feel and taste.
Instead of playing games with the other children on the playground, I usually played by myself, acting out fantastical stories I invented. In fact, this blog post sounds familiar.
I was acting out scenes with the pirate cat Samantha and the crew, or the Space Blimp (based on a dream), or that I was on a planet called Spimpy which had poisonous ground so you had to stay on the Kee Klamp frame structure on the playground….
Sometimes my friends joined in, but I often preferred to be alone because they didn’t do or say the things I wanted my characters to do or say. This happened up until maybe 5th or 6th grade, when I finally got tired of strange looks from the other kids.
I also made puppets with my hands until about 5th grade, when I got tired of being made fun of by the other kids, and of my teacher saying I was too old to do that. Neighborhood adults and kids made fun of me for “talking to trees,” though I was actually just acting out the different speaking parts of my stories, not talking to trees.
I have recently learned that such behaviors are common for NVLD children, that it wasn’t just me. Of course, when I did them, they seemed normal to me, not bizarre at all. Writing became my way to play out my stories in a socially acceptable way. Teachers wrote on my report cards that I was unique and a joy to have.
There were always a few nice kids in school who didn’t care about my “weirdness” and befriended me. Many were older or younger; many were boys; many were minorities.
Maybe my NVLD and its resulting difficulty in making friends, is why I don’t care about race, ethnic group, religion, age or gender when making friends. As long as you’re a sweet and/or pleasant person who does not cut me down for being different from you, you can be my friend.
I still had problems dealing with people in the early years of my adulthood. But some time in my mid-twenties, I discovered that most people smiled when I came around. The people at my new job called me sweet, and when one woman made a snide comment about me, the other women were angry with her. I’ve noted that being sweet and nice goes a long way when you’re socially awkward.
In late elementary school, I began seeing a psychologist because my mother felt my personality had changed somehow. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but I think it was related to changing schools in 3rd grade.
I remember very little bullying at my old school, but there was a group of kids who kept avoiding my overtures of friendship, and one or two of them also changed to my new school and bullied me there.
I was bullied at my new school by others as well, so that may have triggered the problems. I think I was withdrawn or something, and combative at home, and that’s how I ended up in counseling.
The bullying continued into middle school, with me never fitting in anywhere, and the popular, fashionable girls ripping on everything I wore. One girl told me that a certain guy wouldn’t go out with me because my clothes didn’t match; I have to wonder if the guy really cared that much about such things.
I got a burst of popularity briefly in the spring in eighth grade because the story went around that a certain cute, popular boy looked at my picture in the yearbook, and said I was a babe. Now all the popular girls were flocking around me, wanting to sit with me outside at recess, saying, “[name withheld] likes you?” He never did anything about it; I didn’t know the guy, he wasn’t in any of my classes….
But I believe the story was true, because he was in my German class sophomore year in high school, and he was always flirting with me. But I soon discovered that I wouldn’t have wanted to date him anyway:
He was a jock, trying very hard to fit the stereotype of “dumb jocks,” not taking the class seriously, constantly joking around and annoying me to no end. I greatly preferred another guy in the class, a friend of mine who was intelligent–and geeky.
People thought this other guy was strange, though they also seemed to like him; meanwhile the popular guy was the one I couldn’t stand. LOL
I always had trouble following the fashions. I just didn’t know what they were. For example, in junior high, I loved wearing a certain pair of pants which were very comfortable; my mom had just bought them for me at a yard sale.
I did not understand why all the kids kept pointing to me and laughing about “bellbottoms.” I looked it up, and thought it meant that the rear part of my pants was bell-shaped, but that made no sense to me. It was 1985, not long after bellbottoms fell out of fashion, but I did not know what they were.
All during middle school, I drew pictures of Martians and other civilizations I had dreamed up. In 9th grade, a girl saw a picture of two young people from one of these outer space civilizations, and said, “Oh my gosh, are those bellbottoms?”
When I drew the pants, the pantleg bottoms reminded me of pants I had seen as a child, but I didn’t know they were called bellbottoms or that they were now considered ridiculous. Eventually, I finally found out what bellbottoms were, and agreed that they looked ridiculous.
After all this social pressure to see bellbottoms as ridiculous and ugly, when bellbottoms started coming back into fashion in 1991, I was shocked, and refused to wear them. Nowadays, people even talk like tapered legs are silly, while bellbottoms or boot-cuts are flattering.
But I refuse to wear bellbottoms because I still think they look ridiculous. (Of course, that has nothing to do with NVLD, but with personal taste. There are others who refuse to wear bellbottoms or low-risers and don’t have NVLD.)
Also, I thought certain colors went just fine together, but other kids/teenagers would chide me for not matching my colors.
In my teens, when family came to visit, I’d hide in my room where it was quiet and not crowded, and I wouldn’t have to sit next to my annoying brothers, and people didn’t talk so loud next to me on the couch that I started yawning.
My grandma wondered why I didn’t dress fashionably like the other girls she saw at church, why I didn’t appreciate a fashionable outfit (with pantyhose) she gave me. My mother wondered why I didn’t dress to show more of my figure.
At school, I did occasionally know about guys who liked me, but for some reason there was a severe lack of guys asking me out on dates–except, of course, when I was 14, when four boys asked me out, but my mother wouldn’t let me go out on dates yet. I could see boyfriends at school, I could date after 16, so where were the boyfriends? (I know at least one of them was too shy to ask me out. But were they all shy?)
When the other girls were going out on dates, I was sitting at home, alone, pining away for different boys, wondering if I was too plain to attract anybody, wondering why nobody was asking me out. Even now I’ll often feel plain even though many people have told me–without me fishing for compliments, by the way–that I’m beautiful.
And now for more detail about what you may call “selective mutism” in me, which is just a fancy clinical term for extreme quietness because of extreme shyness. (I use the term only grudgingly because I don’t think a common personality trait should be labeled like a disorder.)
Even if neither NLD or Asperger’s actually fit me, selective mutism definitely does. Anyone who has known me, from any time in my life, would verify this. In fact, my high school yearbook (senior year) is full of signatures from fellow classmates who wrote about how quiet I was. They wrote little else.
Many NVLD children are shy and quiet, or become that way after repeated rejection, while others are far too talkative or forward. I’m shy and quiet around strangers and people I don’t feel comfortable around. I’m also usually quiet in groups of people: They do most of the talking while I just watch and listen, and I even forget I’m there or that people might want to hear from me.
I’ve been told that I blend into the furniture. A blind man once noted that he could tell when other people were around him though they were silent, because they made various noises: movement, coughs, and the like. I, however, became invisible. I did not do this deliberately: I was just behaving in my natural manner.
My mom always used to say, “She’s quiet until she warms up to you. Then she talks your ear off.” When asked if I was quiet at home, she’d give an emphatic, “No!” If I’m alone with a person and “click” with him or her, I can become very talkative, and conversational give-and-take becomes easy because I always have something to say.
But if I don’t click with that person, or if I’m with more than one person, my brain often goes blank and I don’t know what to say. They may try to start a conversation with me, but I don’t respond because my brain freezes, or because I don’t even realize they’re trying to start a conversation. Then later on I discover that they think I don’t like them, or was snubbing them.
I’ve always struggled with talking with strangers; I was once told that at parties, I “cling” to the people I know. Once, I was even suspected of being untrustworthy when I was just being my usual shy and quiet self. I’ve also been accused of being stand-offish or snobbish.
But none of these things are true: I was just acting the way which is natural to me. Some people may consider a shy person to be shifty because they have nervous tics and are afraid to make eye contact, when it’s really just from shyness.
In my church youth group, I seem to recall the kids thinking it a big deal if I smiled or laughed. Yes, I do have a sense of humor, so I’m not sure what this was all about.
I once exchanged these comments with one of my best college friends senior year:
I’m glad we are rooming together this year. You are so different than you seemed all these years. I’m really glad that you talk a lot more now. Before it was hard to tell what you were thinking or feeling….
For a long time you were very quiet and never said anything. You sat with all of us at meals but you never joined in the conversations. We didn’t really know you. You were a part of the group, but you were a stranger for a long time.
I asked you to room with me this year for a reason. I didn’t know you and I could tell there was an extremely interesting person in that shy, reserved exterior. And I was right. You talk so much more than you used to.
You are a completely different person than I had once thought. I love the ‘you’ that I have gotten to know this past year. Meeting the real ‘you’ has been one of the highlights of my year 🙂
I’m surprised you say you didn’t really know me before and that I didn’t talk much. It seemed different to me. I had long talks with you and Pearl and others, and I felt closer to you all than I did to almost everyone else. Like here were people that actually knew me. Now I’m a bit confused about the whole thing.
I didn’t mean to make you doubt yourself or the way you see yourself now or in the past. You really didn’t talk to me as much as you talked to Pearl….
You did talk a lot when you were with one person, but I usually saw you with the ‘group’ and you really didn’t say much. But that’s not bad. Usually I don’t say much in the midst of a large conversation. I just can’t keep up and my mind goes blank.
Even my mom once said, while I was in my teens, “You always have been a little strange….”
I recently discovered (in 2008) that a family member has always thought I was sexually abused as a child, because of my behavior while staying with her one week around age 10. A friend asked if I was always very quiet, speaking only when spoken to; I said yes; he said that was probably why. But no, I was not sexually abused as a child.
In fact, it is noted in literature that there is no evidence that selective mutism is caused by trauma, but is basically extreme shyness (Bruce Black, MD, Information on Selective Mutism). Note that unfamiliar situations can cause it, much as in NVLD, unfamiliar situations cause a person to “freeze up.”
Outgoing people often don’t seem to understand just what a struggle it is for a shy, quiet person to do what they do, and they’ll make comments that I should talk to people I don’t know, talk more to the people I do know, etc.–not realizing that they might as well ask a cat to become a dog.
In fact, literature on selective mutism states that: “Attempts to pressure, demand, or force the child to speak, to trick the child into speaking, or to punish or shame the child for not speaking are most often counter-productive” (Bruce Black, MD, Information on Selective Mutism).
These comments assume the shy person is just being stubborn, when it is far more effective to accept the person and help her feel more comfortable. It would help for the outgoing person to ask the shy person to come over, or for the talkative person to ask a series of questions until one finally inspires the quiet person to speak.
Telling the shy and quiet person how to act may be kindly meant, may seem like “helping” to the outgoing person. But to the shy person, it feels like unwelcome criticism–and may end up pushing her farther into her shell. It is that way to me.
It also does not help for Type-A and/or outgoing people to tell a shy person or a learning disabled person to just “push through it.” There is far more going on in the shy or LD brain to hamper “pushing through it” than a simple lack of will.
Of course, the trouble with a name like “selective mutism” is that it takes a common trait–shyness/quietness–and makes it into a “disorder.” As if shy people didn’t already feel marginalized enough.
It amazes me that we have to have clinical terms and details of how terrible this disorder is and how to “fix” it. Couldn’t we just accept that a lot of people don’t fit in with the predominant American outgoing/extrovert culture?
Why do we have to have research to tell us that it’s counter-productive to keep harping on a shy/quiet person’s lack of words? Any shy or quiet person could tell you how annoying it is to constantly hear “smile!” or “you’re so quiet” or “just go talk to people.”
When I read the letter “Out of Ideas” in late April, I knew how the quiet girl felt, and was so upset I wanted to speak out on her behalf. So I sent this to Annie’s Mailbox:
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, next year when the lunch schedules change, this quiet girl will be happy to switch tables to a more welcoming and accepting group, and wonder why she stayed with this one for so long.
I’m willing to bet she actually is an interesting person, but these girls never let her get a word in edgewise, and when she does think of something to say, somebody scolds her for not talking enough and she keeps her mouth shut instead.
All that pestering about her not “behaving” properly, saying her shyness is just an “excuse,” and constantly excluding her from fun activities, is probably making her feel like a freak and pushing her further and further into her shell.
The way to draw out a shy person is to ask for her opinion on a subject, maybe make a compliment or two, because maybe she just hasn’t been able to push into the conversation before the topic changed.
Another way is to have some one-on-one time with her, give her a chance to talk. If she’s included in activities, she may surprise them with being a fun person after all.
There is something called “social mutism.” I don’t like the term because it, once again, makes a quiet person feel like there’s something “wrong” with her, instead of just accepting that she has a different idea of when it’s time to speak.
Still, research done into social mutism has shown that pestering and scolding a quiet person is counterproductive. This person needs to feel safe enough to open up, or it just isn’t going to happen.
Also, the extrovert brain has also been shown to work differently in social situations than an introvert brain: The extrovert can easily make small talk, while the introvert simply cannot keep up.
The quiet person may actually despise small talk, but if allowed to mull over an issue, can come up with something brilliant to say. Is quantity really more important than quality?
–A Quiet Person With Lots to Say
This site is run by a woman with NVLD. It hasn’t been updated since 1998, but it’s still useful. I especially love when she says that, as a highly verbal person, she relates to the world primarily through words–and writes a lot of things.
Particularly telling paragraphs from Sue Thompson’s “Nonverbal Learning Disorders”:
This child is unable to ‘look and learn.’ He does not perceive subtle cues in his environment such as: when something has gone far enough; the idea of personal ‘space’; the facial expressions of others; or when another person is registering pleasure (or displeasure) in a nonverbal mode.
These are all social ‘skills’ that are normally grasped intuitively through observation, not directly taught.
I’ve learned many things about body language and other social skills, but had to pick them up through articles and becoming aware that such things existed, not intuitively. So I do much better these days, and can understand much of the more subtle body language I observe in movies. However, I still miss many things.
For example, I now know that an NVLD person has trouble picking up that someone wants to start a conversation. It helps to know this, but I have recently discovered that I am still woefully bad at picking up that someone wants to start a conversation with me.
Even if I do pick this up, my brain often freezes, so I don’t know what to say. The person becomes offended, thinks I don’t like them, etc. So knowledge helps, but doesn’t always fix the problem.
If a child is constantly admonished with the words, ‘I shouldn’t have to tell you this!,’ this should alert everyone that something is awry because you do have to tell them (everything). The child’s verbal processing may be proficient, but it can be impossible for her to receive and comprehend nonverbal information.
Such a child will cope by relying upon language as her principal means of social relating, information gathering, and relief from anxiety. As a result, she is constantly being told, ‘You talk too much!’
The child with NLD often develops an exceptional memory for rote material; a coping skill he has had to hone in order to survive.
Since the nonverbal processing area of his brain is not giving him the needed automatic feedback, he relies solely upon his memory of past experiences, each of which he has labeled verbally, to guide him in future situations.
This, of course, is less effective and less reliable than being able to sense and interpret another person’s social cues (because of the vast array of differences in human nature).
Cumbersome monologues are another trait of a child with nonverbal learning disabilities. Normal conversational ‘give and take’ seem to elude her. Teachers complain of a child who ‘talks incessantly’ and parents report, ‘She just doesn’t seem to know when to be quiet!’
(Though some of you may not believe this, I have been accused of this before.)
Owing to visual-spatial disturbances, it is difficult for this child to change from one activity to another and/or to move from one place to another. A child with NLD uses all of her concentration and attention to merely get through a room.
Imagine the frustration produced when attempting to function in a complicated and/or new social situation. Owing to her inability to ‘handle’ such informational processing demands, she will instinctively avoid any kind of novelty.
The importance of identifying and servicing children with nonverbal learning disorders is especially acute. Overestimates of the child’s abilities and unrealistic demands made by parents and teachers can lead to ongoing emotional problems.
A favorable prognosis seems to depend upon early identification and accommodation. The child with NLD is particularly inclined toward seriously debilitating forms of internalizing psychopathology, such as depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and in some cases, suicide.
Dr. Byron P. Rourke of the University of Windsor and his associates have found that nonverbal learning disabilities ‘predispose those afflicted to adolescent and adult depression and suicide risk.’
The child with NLD is regularly punished and picked on for circumstances he cannot help, without ever really understanding why, and he is in turn often left with little hope that his situation will ever improve.
After amassing years of embarrassing and misconceived unintentional social blunders, it is not too difficult to comprehend how a person with nonverbal learning disorders could come to the conclusion that his environment is not structured to accommodate him.
For more, go to the “Social” section of the above linked article.
Though I myself haven’t been accused of harassment or stalking or racist remarks, people with NVLD are sometimes accused of obsessive behavior because they don’t understand limits.
They’re not psychotic or stalkers or evil: They’re just learning disabled, the same as a person with dyslexia or autism or ADD. This is especially a danger if the NVLD person is lonely and someone pays attention to him/her.
Common workplace behavior is described here: NLDline‘s “Adults with NLD” section, then “Employment Information for Adults With NLD,” then “Kelli Bond–Nonverbal Learning Disabilities from 9 to 5.“
This article goes into the handwriting and math difficulties of NVLD. It also helps explain why, for example, I’d much rather have a conversation than play a board or card game. But of course, always keep in mind that articles on NVLD give many examples from the severe end of NVLD.
The Syndrome of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (shows how people with NVLD can have different strengths and weaknesses, and how oftentimes problems can be overcome with enough practice)
Sites discussing the possibility of subtypes, which would explain the diverse variations in people diagnosed with NVLD:
Palombo’s Theory on Subtypes (page 18)
The article Developing an Educational Plan for the Student with NLD gives many examples of how NLD affects a person day-by-day. For example, getting lost, being late, trouble with changes, trouble following multi-step instructions.
Dirty Filthy Love is the strangest movie I’ve ever seen–but, even though I do not have OCD or Tourette’s, I felt a kinship with the characters because “normal” people did not understand them.
This article on eye contact explains not only my trouble with making eye contact, but my difficulty in understanding or being understood through the use of eye contact.
While my eye contact has greatly improved over the years, and the article is from the point of view of an autistic person (which is at the extreme other end of the spectrum), eye contact still gives me many of the problems described in this article, and can be tiring.
So often I’ll just look away while speaking, or even while listening, if I’m having trouble focusing on the words.
The NLD ties in quite well with ISFJ, or the Protector Guardian on the Keirsey Personality Test. ISFJs are attentive to detail, prefer schedules, like to have things laid out ahead of time, and are not very intuitive. ISFJs are also often misunderstood.
On the one hand, I used to have lots of, and still have some, trouble understanding people and social norms–the NLD side. On the other hand, I am an extreme introvert (100% on the Keirsey Test).
I do not easily open up to people until I consider them trustworthy and “safe.” With most people, this never happens and it’s hard to get beyond “hello” with me; with a few special ones, it happens either immediately, or in a short period of time. If I consider you a close friend, my introversion vanishes.
With ISFJ, “families are the centers of their lives”; they “are extremely warm and demonstrative within the family circle”(ISFJ)–which means if you become one of the very few whom I adopt into my little family circle, I will easily hug you, maybe even cuddle up to you. But I keep most people at a safe physical distance.
They are not as outgoing and talkative as the Providers, except with close friends and relatives. With these they can chat tirelessly about the ups and downs in their lives, moving (like all the Guardians) from topic to topic as they talk over their everyday concerns.
However, their shyness with strangers is often misjudged as stiffness, even coldness, when in truth these Protectors are warm-hearted and sympathetic, giving happily of themselves to those in need.
Their quietness ought really to be seen as an expression, not of coldness, but of their sincerity and seriousness of purpose (About the 4 Temperaments).
So I’ve been hit on both sides with the potential for misunderstanding, while the people closest to me usually know better.
This webpage goes into the strengths and difficulties of NLD adults in their jobs, and how in the past they would have found it easier to make a successful career. Especially with how these days the clerk or secretary often has to do receptionist duties as well–a mix of filing and other solitary clerical duties that are great for an NLDer, with duties that are best for extroverts with great social skills–it’s gotten harder to find that suitable job.
At my last job, I did wonderfully with the clerical tasks, but–though I did always try to be polite and kind with my boss’ clients–dealing with clients was a severe weakness. I had trouble with thinking on-the-spot of what to say or do, especially if they were upset about something.
I also had trouble stopping what I was doing to answer the phone. I admired other secretaries in the building who handled these situations with ease. I often had to stay after about 15 minutes or so to finish the day’s clerical work, but I did it well.
Fortunately, many of the deficits of NVLD are not life sentences: With intervention, NLDers can be taught to function more normally in many ways. However, for older adults who missed out on being diagnosed while they were children (unlike many kids and young adults today), unless they find some way to finance and find time for a diagnosis among their many adult responsibilities and bills, they are at a disadvantage.
I have spent years primarily studying actors in movies and on TV, and struggling to maintain better eye contact, to improve my social skills. They are much better now than when I was a child. I also have, since my teens, read many things in magazine articles, books and websites about such things as psychology, facial expressions, and the like. There are also the insights and advice of friends and other counselors.
So I have been able to build some of the abilities to read and understand others, that other people may be able to figure out instinctively. It still needs some work, however, as recent experiences have shown. Also, there are often times when I can tell someone is angry, but haven’t a clue why, even when they’re angry with me. So being able to read people is not just about reading their body language when they’re angry, but their verbal communication with you.
Comments on blog asking How can a positive diagnosis of Asperger’s help an already established adult?
Comments on this blog post go into self-diagnosis and whether it can be taken seriously. Note that for adults, it can be quite expensive to get tests done, you don’t have a school helping you with this, and things you may have done as a child that would fit the diagnosis, you’ve since learned to stop doing.
There are many things I struggled with as a child or teenager–such as handwriting, various social skills, eye contact, spontaneity/change of plans–which I have either overcome or greatly improved over the years.
In an old diary, I discovered that in 1992, I had written that if my boyfriend wanted to change date plans and go rollerskating instead, or my friends decided at midnight to go sledding, I didn’t like to do that, even though the activity itself would be a lot of fun. What I didn’t like was the change in plans, but my boyfriend thought I didn’t like rollerskating when I actually loved it and did it all the time as a kid.
I had forgotten this trait was so pronounced back then, since over the years I’ve gotten far better at handling spontaneous changes of plans; this makes me think mild Asperger’s is still a good possibility. I did remember how upset I’d get in the late 90s if my household routine/laundry schedule had to be changed, while now I can just switch days around if I have to.
It’s one reason I don’t get officially diagnosed, because a diagnosis would have helped me a lot more when I was a kid or young adult, but now as I near 40, my “symptoms” have diminished enough that a diagnosis may be harder to get anyway. Driving is still a problem, as is socializing (I’m extremely quiet and shy even around family), but I’ve learned to be far more organized and I take good care of my house.
Here are points from a list I’ve begun to make of questions to ask a doctor, when/if I ever get the money/time to get diagnosed:
–In earlier grades, the discrepancy between math/science and English didn’t show up right away. By 4th or 5th grade, as math became more complex, my trouble with it showed up as disinclination to do math work (we were work-at-your-own-pace). It took a long time to learn multiplication, division and complex fractions. I was still in the 4th grade book in 5th grade. Spelling, English and Reading, however, were beyond grade level.
In middle and high school, the discrepancy became more prominent. Middle school put you in different “teams” depending on your perceived ability, so I was in the “smart group” for all my basic core classes. However, my trouble in math became especially prominent when trying to sort out percentages, interest rates, and the like higher math.
English and Reading, however, were fine. Social Studies mostly had problems with organization of homework, completion of homework, filling in maps, coloring maps properly (colored pencil only and all in one direction per instructions of teacher), and handwriting (greatly improved but I “drew” in various ways rather than writing, making the teacher wonder what the heck I was doing).
–In high school, where I could finally enroll in each individual class based on my own ability and the team’s, I was able to improve my GPA. I discovered that higher math and science classes would result in poor grades.
So I took regular math and science classes, where I excelled above the other kids (except in Chemistry, which I did very poorly in, but the teacher was a jerk and everybody hated him). For English, however, I soon went from Honors to AP and did very well. I also did well in language courses.
I did note that the set of kids in the AP/Honors level courses was very different from the set in the Regular courses, telling me that most of the “smart” kids were smart in everything, while I was only smart in certain things. In college, we were permitted to choose between foreign language and math, I had a writing major, and I could fulfill my science requirement with botany and astronomy. So I was able to maintain a high GPA.
–Several years ago, I came across various school papers (now probably discarded) from different grade levels starting in 3rd-6th grade. The early grade papers were full of illegible chicken scratches and red marks from the teacher, complaining.
As the years progressed, my letters became better formed, but I had trouble spacing them (and, also, lining up numbers properly on math homework, which was always a mess). When I began learning cursive, my writing became unreadable again, though at least now the words were separated and a bit easier to make out.
Teachers would write on my papers that they were giving me poor marks because they couldn’t make out what I had written, not because the answer was necessarily wrong. I was given handwriting practice papers many times.
By 6th grade, my handwriting had much improved, but somewhere around 7th grade, I began “drawing” to make my writing prettier. This resulted in strange-looking writing that the teachers complained about. I stopped doing this before entering high school, resulting in writing that was, at last, legible and nice-looking.
–My French teacher in 7th grade constantly wrote nasty notes on my papers, complaining that I was not following directions. I’m sure this was not deliberate on my part.
–My teacher from 4th-5th grade was constantly criticizing me about my behavior. I was a good child, not the sort to act up in class, so much so that when a tyrannical substitute teacher made me write my name on the board, the whole class was shocked and considered it a grave injustice. But my teacher found plenty to criticize just the same.
I can’t recall what, anymore, though I do still have a report card from her, available on request. Past report cards said I had self-discipline and could take criticism; she said the opposite.
Once she asked me a question in a one-on-one conference at her desk, and I had to think a bit to figure out how to answer. She scolded me for taking too long to make up my mind, calling it “babyish.” Yet it’s always been hard for me to make up my mind about difficult things, long since babyhood.
I did improve greatly in 6th grade. I don’t know why they changed my teacher–did my parents request it?–but they did, to a far more easygoing teacher. Well, she was easygoing as far as, she was nice and didn’t criticize my every move.
But the class was far more structured, with set homework and set times when we all had to work and be quiet. My previous teacher just let us do whatever all day long, so I often avoided working on subjects that caused me trouble. But because of this teacher’s imposed structure, I did far better.
–Once during 3rd grade, while our teacher read from a storybook, we were all sitting/lying on the floor around her. I was lying belly-down, propped up with my arms. I think my socks had fallen down; for some reason, probably because it was the quickest way to pull them up, I reached down underneath my body and yanked them up quickly.
To my surprise, when I returned to my regular position, the teacher was giving me a strange look and the kids were all laughing. I had no idea what I did that was so funny. One of the kids mimicked me and put her butt up in the air, but that wasn’t what I did at all.
I was so embarrassed that I wanted to go away, but I couldn’t figure out why my actions were so funny or why people thought I had stuck my butt up in the air. All I did was pull up my socks. And this was hardly the only time the kids and/or the teachers thought I acted oddly. I can’t give details anymore, but they were many.
–In 3rd and possibly 4th grade, I was still playing with my hands, as I had done since I was still in the crib. I had progressed from simple hand-men to various creatures: dogs, cats, dogs with different ears, Figure 8, the tiger-kangaroos Sally and Hedreda (started in Kindergarten), etc. etc.
I had a highly imaginative fantasy life and had no qualms about acting it out when others were around: playing with my hands, acting out my own little stories on the playground by myself because nobody else would know how to play the characters right, reciting the voices of the people and creatures in my fantasies while walking to school K-2nd grade….
My 3rd or 4th grade teacher began shaming me for it, saying I was far too old to play with my hands. I began only now to notice that other kids did not do it. I taught a male friend on the bus how to make my hand puppets, and the other kids made fun of him for it and said we were boyfriend/girlfriend, which at that age is embarrassing. Eventually, I stopped, tired of being made fun of.
I don’t recall how long I continued to act out stories on the playground or in my backyard or while rollerskating around the block. Some of the neighborhood kids–even adults–began saying that I “talked to trees.” This upset me because I was not doing anything so strange.
–Sometime in elementary school, I started walking up on the bank next to the fence when walking from the back door to the garage, whenever it was time to get into the car. Everyone else in the family walked down on the sidewalk.
During the wintertime, it was snowy up there, making it harder to walk. So one day, I asked to use the shovel. Mom said okay, thinking I was going to shovel the sidewalk. Instead, I shoveled the top of the bank where I walked. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
But then a couple of guys stopped their car and called out, “What are you doing?” I assumed dignity rather than shame and smiled at them. But then, only then, it struck me that maybe what I was doing was a bit peculiar.
–Sometime in elementary school, after I had spent a year dealing with a couple of bullies at my lunch table (assigned seating), I went to visit my aunt and uncle for several days. My aunt criticized me constantly (which she also did to her mother).
I told her about the bullies at the lunch table, and she said next time, ask the boy when he last changed his underwear. Not until my 30s, after some family upheaval that involved my parents but not me, she revealed to my parents that she had always believed my dad or brothers had sexually abused me!
One of my brothers constantly bullied me, teasing me and criticizing everything I ever did, said or liked (which he does to this day, so I have very little contact with him). But none of them had ever laid a finger on me in a sexual manner.
Her reason for believing this: my behavior when I stayed with her for that week! I’m not entirely sure what I did or said that caused her to think this. (By the way, she is now estranged from most of the family, with whom she never really got along, I hear.)
–Probably in 6th grade or middle school, I came up with a planetary society which wore afghans as robes, rather than sweaters. The explanation, told in their peculiar speech, was, “We like com-fert more than warmth.”
–College: My college required all incoming freshmen to take a series of SEED tests, which were used for placement. My advisor informed me that I did poorly on reading speed and comprehension. He recommended that I take a remedial reading course.
So I did, but soon discovered that my classmates were mostly international students and others who had deficient English skills. I had been in AP English, so I felt this course was a very poor fit for me, and dropped out.
This test did show a problem with comprehension and people have complained about/commented on how slowly I read, so it’s not imaginary. But if given ample time to read and sort out what I’m reading, I do all right. Hence, the AP English classes, where I made high grades!
I was doing very well in classes, but social issues were quite another matter. I was very shy and had trouble making friends at first, but did manage to get a boyfriend, my first significant boyfriend ever, first kiss.
However, I was very naive with the boys and they preyed on me. I didn’t have many boyfriends, and was not at all promiscuous, but I did get used just the same.
I learned later that my first boyfriend had lied to me about who he was and probably other things as well, to get me to like him–something I’m told he later did to all sorts of girls on a local BBS. I had no idea, and thought the boy I knew was the real him.
Then he tired of me and became another boy entirely. My heart was broken and I had no idea what was appropriate behavior for dealing with it. I was very naive. He got very angry with me, and I had no idea why.
Another boy came along and began using me when he was feeling lonely, but refused to actually love me. He did this for many months, until finally I began to wonder what the heck was wrong with me that I would keep allowing him to do this. I began to see a counselor and got the strength to let go of my need to let him.
The following year I finally found a guy I thought would make it all go away. He seemed perfect for me in the beginning. We got engaged and then spiritually married. But as time wore on, he grew increasingly emotionally abusive, and used guilt and force to make me do things I didn’t want to do.
I also began to learn that he had been manipulating me by pretending to be asleep and act out his dreams. It turned into an elaborate act: his “subconscious” coming out while he slept, to be the kind of husband he was in the beginning, telling me the inner secrets of the conscious husband’s behavior and heart. I believed all of it because I thought he would never lie to me.
After he finally revealed the truth, I was devastated at his treachery, and nearly broke up with him. But I was too entrenched by then to just give up our relationship, and it continued until he finally ended it.
But even then it took me a few months to really let go and start looking for a healthy relationship. I had lost so much confidence in my own ability to find a decent man that I asked my friends for help. They had hated my fiancé during most of our relationship, seeing plainly what I had missed.
–I was made fun of all through school. In elementary school, I was “weird” and constantly bullied verbally. In junior high, I was dorky and kids put a sign on my back one day during a fire drill–and even the teacher laughed!
In high school, the girls stopped bullying so much, but some of the boys sexually harassed me. Fortunately, the kids seemed to like me better, and one of the girls said, “You don’t need to be so shy: A lot of people like you.” But the sexual harassment was devastating.
In college, frat boys made fun of me behind my back for coming to a movie party and then barely speaking to anyone. I was too terrified to talk to most of them, but I did speak to the boys who were my friends. Unfortunately, my ex-boyfriend who hated me was a member of this frat and arrived later, making me more tense.
After college, I began working. Adults were less likely to make fun of me except for friendly teasing; however, I soon discovered that they could be just as difficult to deal with. People were supposedly “afraid” to talk to me, even though I was the gentlest person anyone could approach. I didn’t talk enough to people. I resented being made to feel like a jerk just because I was quiet and shy.
–In high school, one day in Drawing I thought I was supposed to do the day’s assignment one way, according to what the teacher had said. So for most of the hour, I did it that way. Then some kids started telling me I was doing it wrong. These kids already bullied me quite a bit in general. I don’t remember details, but it turned into me feeling absolutely mortified as the whole class laughed and the teacher yelled about HIM having a bad week.
I went home and cried to my mother that I was weird, after I had only just thought to myself that finally I no longer felt weird. Another time, during graduation rehearsal, the teacher said do such and such and then go back to our classrooms. So when we finished such and such, I began going to my classroom. I soon realized that everyone was still in procession and heading back to the GYM! I have no idea what happened.
–I have always had trouble remembering multi-step directions. I have to hold back and watch other people do it before I can do it.
–I expect people to say what they mean. If they don’t verbalize, I often miss it, only to find out later (from somebody’s complaint) that I missed it. But I’m not completely blinded by nonverbal communication; I’ve gotten better at it over the years, especially from reading about it and watching movies.
Still, one time in college a friend kept saying, “So what else is going on?” all through the night. So I kept coming up with more things to tell him, since he kept asking for more. Finally, he told me I was being very rude keeping him up so late. HUH?
–My first college boyfriend complained of me “shadowing” him. I had no idea what he meant. I thought I was behaving just like any girlfriend and that he liked it. He also complained that I waited outside the bathroom for him. I had no idea this bothered him, until he complained about it to “warn” my ex-fiancé when we first started dating.
Neither of us knew why this was such a big deal to my ex-boyfriend. I wasn’t, like, showing up out of nowhere and lurking there to wait for him; we had gone there together and separated to go to the bathroom, to meet up afterwards.
Both that ex-fiancé and the man I eventually married, found my behavior re: bathrooms to be perfectly normal, expected and preferred, and no other guy complained about me “shadowing” him, so these may have actually been that one boyfriend’s problems, not mine.
–I can’t stand loud voices (which also make me yawn), sweaters, jeans, sweatshirts, anything tight or constricting, turtlenecks, anything rough, things which other people seem to love wearing and consider comfortable. I don’t like how they feel. I need super-soft clothes.
I often cover my ears when voices get too loud, and afterwards feel like I’ve been at a rock concert. I don’t like wearing wristwatches or bracelets, so I used to either carry my watch in my pocket or wear a necklace-watch. Normally the only jewelry I wear is my wedding ring and at least one necklace.
–I’m so meticulous with spelling and punctuation that I used to get after people online for making spelling/grammar mistakes. After being told that this annoyed people, I stopped.
After college, I took tests at the local SEEK to determine what kinds of jobs I’d be good for. The tester told me that I had no errors on the punctuation test, and that I was the only one to do so well. I also took far longer to complete all the tests than people normally do, but I did very well on all of them.
–I found a report card which called me “unique.” Teachers usually liked me, and I usually did pretty well, and behaved well, but I was “unique.” I knew I wasn’t like the other kids, but didn’t know why or how. I just didn’t have their ways.
–I walked oddly. I couldn’t always tell because I couldn’t look at myself. I had to find out from others’ reactions. Once on a trip, I saw my family swinging their arms while walking, and thought it looked ugly and weird. So I made sure to not swing my arms.
As time passed at school, kids began saying I walked like a zombie. I couldn’t understand what they meant. Then a janitor said, “Swing your arms!” Huh? Eventually I began swinging my arms again; I had to retrain myself to get it properly coordinated, arm-to-leg.
Once in maybe 5th grade, I walked by glass doors and caught a glimpse of my terribly hunched posture. In 7th grade, I overcompensated and kids began saying I walked like a prostitute. I never have felt comfortable in my own skin, and often prefer wearing a jacket or carrying a bag so my posture isn’t so “exposed” or something I have to think as much about.
–I completely missed most fashions. I lived through them but only had a vague idea of what the popular kids were wearing. I noted some things, but kept missing other things. I had no idea why my middle school jeans wouldn’t go on over my feet without much struggle, because I didn’t realize that pantleg bottoms had now become extremely narrow. I had no idea why the kids jeered at me for wearing “bellbottoms” (comfortable hand-me-down pair of pants).
I never saw rolled pantlegs until college, but wore them that way well into the 00s when my pants were too long. I’d wear something that I saw other girls/women wearing, yet for some reason I’d get funny looks from other women like I was some freak.
In middle school they told me my clothes don’t match, said that one boy wouldn’t go out with me because of it, and I didn’t understand it. I have more of a “man’s” vision of fashion and don’t understand why women make fun of certain clothes combinations. Yet a BOY in high school told me one day in passing that “blue and green don’t go [together].” (I shot back, “Yes they do!”)
These days, I mostly stick to neutral pant colors so I can be reasonably sure of matching them to my blouse/shirt.
–I love movies, not action movies which are too violent and have too much action, too little meaningful dialogue or character development. But I prefer books because they tell me what people are thinking. In late 2007, I saw a version of “Batman” made in the 00s which my husband loved and followed with no trouble, but it was just a jumbled mess for me that made no sense.
–I trudge through long description rather slowly, trying to visualize, doing better with individual bits but having trouble with seeing the entire picture. However, a particularly well detailed description of a person can occasionally give me a vivid picture which stays for some time. Most of the time, however, I see only shadowy figures.
I like to look up fashion pictures so I can imagine what the characters are wearing for their time period. Many times, I’ve even drawn pictures of the characters and looked at them while reading. I can draw decently, though my brothers draw far better. My pictures focus on the person, not on the landscape or furniture around them.
My brother Larry, by the way, also writes, and his left-handed handwriting looks much like my writing did in elementary school.
–When I get interested in something, I will usually obsess about it, gathering all the information I can, or writing stories/drawing pictures about it. This is not a lifelong obsession that I know every single detail about, but does usually remain an interest.
As a child, I would pore over encyclopedias; as an adult in the computer age, I will often spend hours upon hours scouring Google for the information I seek until I am satisfied. Then maybe, months or years later, my interest will spark again and I will do more searching.
–I used to have a terribly disorganized bedroom, desk, locker. When I got a roommate in college, I determined to be a good roommate, and began making chore schedules for myself. During months when I had no roommate, papers would start littering my room. But when I did have a roommate, I kept my things as orderly as I could, dusted, cleaned the floor, etc. After college when I began setting up housekeeping, I would write down chore lists in my day planner.
Then I started making detailed chore and laundry schedules which spanned several weeks, to be used over and over, until I learned them by heart. This has put a comforting order into my life which I would disdain to lose. Whenever something disrupts my schedule, I don’t fall to pieces, I’ve learned to adapt, but I DO NOT LIKE IT. I also have little comforting rituals for dealing with various things throughout my day, not life-disrupting or annoying like OCD.
–I am very introverted, but do like having a few friends. However, my introversion makes it hard to make friends at times. I am very quiet in groups, disdain small talk, blend into the furniture, but one-on-one can be very talkative (if you’re “safe”). My mom used to say I’d talk your ear off.
–I had an excellent algebra teacher who explained everything step-by-step so well that I aced the class, and was able to go on to algebra-trigonometry with a sound basis and little trouble. I also did well in high school geometry. (Note that they were both Regular classes.) But I always had trouble with story problems, complex fractions, and other things already mentioned.
–I often have trouble paying attention.
–Saw a guy in college who criticized everything about me: my behavior, my clothes, my hair. I didn’t act “right.” I wasn’t outgoing enough, was too reserved, didn’t wear makeup, didn’t dress like I wanted guys to notice me. A couple of years later, also knew a guy who told me similar things and said I’d end up an old maid if I didn’t go to parties, dress right, etc. (He was wrong, by the way, since I met my husband a few months later.)
–The many aspects of driving are overwhelming, too much all at once: difficulty navigating the car, figuring out where to go, watching the road and other drivers, all at once. I especially had trouble parking and turning corners. Occasionally still dream about not being able to negotiate turns and curves.
–Ever since childhood, I have certain OCD-like things: I like equal/even numbers, letters, and other things. My eye will pass over numbers or letters, grouping them and hoping to find them equal/even. It’s hard to explain precisely, since it’s something I do almost without realizing it, in many different situations.
If a plastic hangar or a pair of pants I’m hanging up hits me on one leg, I won’t feel right until I hit it against the other leg as well. When I go out walking, if one foot steps on a crack, I’m agitated until the other one does as well (though I keep it all inside).
This does not affect my life overmuch, at least not so anyone notices, but I do them all the time. It’s soothing in a way. I remember starting these things consciously when I was small. Even though I had never done them before, and it felt like I was making a conscious decision to do them, I started them and have never even tried to shake them.
–In college, my first boyfriend noted that when asked for the time, I was always precise, and it drove him crazy. He said other people would say “quarter to” or round up/down to the nearest time, but I would always say “4:02” or “8:57” or the like. I was surprised because I thought everybody did that.