Experts Blog

The Right Summer Camp Can Make A World Of Difference To Children With NVLD, by Debbie & Eric Sasson

By | Experts Blog

Life can be very lonely when it feels like people don’t “get” you.  Our campers tell us that camp gives them an opportunity to be a part of something bigger, to be a member of a community where people understand them and appreciate them for who they are.  Many people find it hard to imagine that summer camp can provide more than a few weeks of fun activities.  And yet, camp is so much more.  Residential camp gives children an opportunity to meet peers who have similar interests and experiences, but also to be more independent, to learn resiliency, to feel a sense of agency.

Our camp is intentionally designed for children (ages 8-18) who identify as “quirky”.  Many of them have an NVLD diagnosis, some have an ASD (Aspergers) diagnosis and others aren’t formally diagnosed but struggle to make friends in a “typical” setting.  We sometimes hear from parents who are considering camp that they can’t imagine sending their child away for three weeks and they worry that not only might their child be lonely or anxious but that “she won’t make it”.  It’s often hard to help parents understand that taking the first step is the hardest and once at camp, campers tell us they experience a sense of relief.  So many of our campers have shared stories with us over the past 10 years that echo similar themes:  feeling isolated, being lonely, sad, depressed, being scared, feeling like no one really understands them.

Some campers tell us they don’t even know where to begin socially.  Camp allows us to help campers practice those skills.  Often, in typical camp settings, bunk groups are made up of 12-15 children.  Not only is there a lot of social pressure to “fit in”, but bunks can be loud, chaotic and disorganized. Programs are designed to keep campers guessing about what’s next and schedules feel rushed.  For many children, this works and that type of camp is an amazing experience that can be navigated seamlessly.  For our campers, a loud and chaotic living situation would pose many challenges.  By creating groups that are smaller with bunks that are well organized with visual reminders and expectations clearly laid out, our campers are more relaxed. They have more emotional energy to be socially available to one another and receptive to staff feedback.

Camp parents often provide the best insight into how a summer at camp has changed their lives. Here is one piece of feedback that was shared with us:

Your camp is a special and unique place. There our “quirky” daughter is at home and feels like an important part of the community. She has true friends and feels safe enough to take social risks. Many years ago when we realized the complexity of Sarah’s learning challenges and potential impact a “typical” setting had on her self-worth, we sadly gave up the thought/dream of our Sarah experiencing overnight summer camp; it was not a risk we were willing to take. Then, we found your camp!  After 3 ½ weeks, Sarah returned a confident, independent, articulate, and stunningly more mature teenager who not only braved through a challenging case of homesickness but in the end proudly labeled camp as her “home away from home”.  We are forever grateful for not only the countless skills Sarah will take with her throughout her life but the spirit of Akeela that is forever imprinted into her heart.

Sending a child to camp can be scary for any parent. If your child has learning and/or social skills differences, it can be even more intimidating. However, it’s these children who have the most to benefit from a camp experience. The key is to find the right camp for your child.

 

Debbie and Eric are the directors of Camp Akeela (campakeela.com), a co-ed, overnight camp with locations in Vermont and Wisconsin. Debbie has a Masters in School Counseling and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology; Eric has a Masters in Education from Harvard University. Within a well-rounded, traditional camp program, Akeela is a small, supportive community that helps campers improve their social skills.  Akeela focuses on building a community in which campers feel great about themselves, make friends, try new things and have fun!

Learning the rules of the social give and take, by Abby Diamond

By | Experts Blog
I work as a learning specialist in a mainstream independent school in New York City.  In my role I see students with a variety of challenges and diagnosed learning disabilities.  I currently work with one student, Ethan, who is diagnosed with NVLD.  In a social, collaborative environment that demands strong independence and self-advocacy skills he has struggled.  The give and take of social interactions and understanding what is appropriate behavior in the classroom can be difficult for Ethan.  Together, we have developed strategies that help him advocate for himself and I have shared useful tips with his teachers so that their interactions with Ethan are productive.  Read More

NVLD Neuroimaging Research Study

By | Experts Blog

The NVLD Project is supporting a research study on children with NVLD at Columbia University Medical Center. Our goal is to better understand what makes NVLD a distinct diagnosis. We are trying to learn more about how children with NVLD learn and if there are differences in the way that their brains work. In order to do this, we are having children come spend a day at Columbia University Medical Center. The day consists of spending time doing tasks and an MRI scan.

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Dating Success: Strategies for Using Your Strengths with NVLD, by Benjamin Meyer

By | Experts Blog

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.

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Services That Help: Preparing Young Adults with NVLD for the Workforce, by Benjamin Meyer

By | Experts Blog

The challenges in finding and keeping employment for young adults on the autism spectrum are well documented, with studies indicating that 75 to 85 percent are unemployed . However, there are no employment statistics for adults with NVLD, although according to Yvonna Fast, author of the book Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-verbal Learning Disability, a high percentage are also thought to be unemployed or underemployed. Despite the increasing availability of job coaching and independent living services for young adults on the autism spectrum, the NVLD population lacks access to similar services, despite the many challenges they face. Deficits in visual spatial processing and executive functioning can cause seemingly mundane work tasks, such as organizing files, prioritizing, and filling out forms, to be excessively onerous, while managing nonverbal communication from employers and colleagues can also be challenging. More must be done, starting at the college and graduate school levels, to prepare adults with NVLD for the demands of the workforce.

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Social Issues and Anxiety, by Amy Margolis

By | Experts Blog

One hallmark behavior associated with NVLD is social difficulty. Often children with NVLD feel isolated and lonely. Social problems associated with NVLD may derive from difficulty with spatial and visual-perceptual deficits. However, the social problems associated with NVLD may derive from other sources, too. Many children with NVLD experience anxiety. Sometimes this anxiety is purely social, but many times it extends into other realms. It is not uncommon for children with NVLD to have obsessive tendencies or to have phobias and other forms of anxiety, in addition to social anxiety. Anxiety can lead to children restricting their interactions with others to avoid anxiety-inducing triggers. Read More

Social Problems at NVLD, by Amy Margolis

By | Experts Blog

Children with NVLD have spatial or visual-perceptual deficits. For some this leads to difficulty in math, for others to social problems. The mechanisms underlying these social problems are not well understood. One hypothesis is that spatial and visual-perceptual deficits make it hard for children to interpret social cues. For example, they may misinterpret facial expressions and incorrectly determine that someone is frowning at them when instead the person is looking quizzically at them. Alternatively, spatial and visual-perceptual deficits may interfere with children’s ability to interpret body language. They may see two children standing together and misinterpret the amount of space between them, and then misattribute the meaning of that space. They may think, “Those girls are huddling together and don’t want me to join in,” whereas another child might think, “There are two girls I know standing together; I will join them.” Additionally, spatial and visual-perceptual deficits may make it hard to integrate cues about the spatial environment with a current social scenario. Read More

Advice for Reading Comprehension at Home, by Bob Cunningham

By | Experts Blog

I’ve always found it ironic that a child with a Non-Verbal Learning Disability can have such difficulty with reading comprehension. Some other time I’ll talk about why the “non-verbal” part of the LD label doesn’t quite capture the difficulties these kids have. Today, though, I want to offer some advice that can be used in school or at home for working on those reading comprehension issues. Read More

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