Dating can be daunting for anyone, but dating with a Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) creates a unique set of challenges. People with NVLD have difficulties reading body language, understanding nuance such as sarcasm in communication, and simply managing to transition to new environments. Nevertheless, while the challenges of dating on the Autism Spectrum have received increasing attention, little has been published about NVLD. However, as I suggested in my blog post Overlooked: What Makes Many Young Adults with NVLD Attractive, many young people with NVLD have unique strengths. I outline below how they can use these strengths not only to compensate for deficits, but also as assets. Of course, every person with NVLD is unique and these suggestions are not meant to be a one-size fits all approach, but they may help young adults with NVLD increase confidence while dating.
Use Your Strong Verbal, Written memory, and Auditory Skills
Remembering what others say is a positive characteristic to bring into any dating situation, and really focusing on what is being said can go a long way in making a good first impression. Young adults with NVLD can use their strong verbal and memory skills to good advantage. However, in today’s online culture, the first impressions often start before the first date. Therefore, reading up about the work or recreational interests included in someone’s profile before beginning to communicate online can go a long way toward making a good first impression.
Find an Activity that Speaks to Your Skills
For young adults with NVLD, finding dating activities that can take advantage of their verbal strengths is especially important. Noisy bars or activities that require lots of transitions may not be good for someone who is sensitive to excessive visual stimulation and crowded areas. Dating in an environment that is more slow-paced and where conversations can take place more easily, such as a quiet restaurant or walk in a park, may be a better fit.
Practice Makes Perfect
The challenges that young adults with NVLD face in dating can be mitigated by practice. Finding a friend or professional with whom you can practice reading body language or act out different dating scenarios may be helpful. Since reading body language can be a challenge, it is important to work on deciphering the signs of interest, from the twirling of hair to a light touch on the foot, in a safe and comfortable environment.
Decide on When and How To Self-disclose
Self-disclosure at the right moment can significantly reduce anxiety, but deciding when and how much to disclose can be a tricky process. There is no standard script for this; while some may prefer to discuss their learning differences after the first date, others wait until they are in an ongoing relationship. However, there are some key points that can make self-disclosure easier for you. First, be aware that many people have never heard of NVLD, so you may need to explain it. When explaining it, emphasize not only how it has created challenges for you, but also how you have learned and grown from the process, perhaps by having developed techniques to compensate or by becoming more compassionate toward the struggles of others. I am not suggesting that you have to present yourself as if you have completely “solved” all of your challenges, but explaining how you have grown from your experiences may cause others to take note of your resilience and self-awareness, qualities that are very attractive.
Find Others Experiencing Similar Challenges
Since individuals with NVLD may feel lonely in their struggles with dating, meeting with those who have had similar experiences can offer significant validation and perspective about what has worked for others. For example, people may be able to offer tips about the best ways to meet people or to initiate conversation and physical intimacy, how frequently to get in touch with someone you’re just starting to date, whether (or when) it’s better to text or call, how to handle shyness or anxiety (your own or the other person’s), or how to sustain a relationship in a city in which there is so much competition and so many demands.
While individuals with NVLD may face many challenges in dating, there are strategies that can decrease the obstacles. It also helps to have a sense of humor during this process, allowing yourself to make mistakes and share funny stories afterwards about an experience that most of us find confusing and embarrassing much of the time. The more you can accept that dating is a learning process, and that it’s ok to make mistakes during the process as well, the more you will allow yourself to grow during the process.
I am a bilingual psychotherapist and executive functioning coach who specializes in working with young adults with NVLD. I am inspired by my personal experience to help those I work with to transition to the professional and social demands of adult life. I also believe that each person is unique, and that we are more than just our labels and diagnosis.
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