Telling someone I’m on the spectrum is difficult, but things become even more complicated when you’re a speech-language pathologist. I knew from a small age that I was different from my peers but no clue that I had a learning disability that affected me socially, academically, physically, and emotionally.
Until recently I had never heard of Non-Verbal Learning Disability, and I have been a practicing speech-language pathologist since October of 2014. It presents very similarly to Aspergers but is different in several ways. For instance, I’m an auditory learner and struggle with fine/gross motor impairments, while many Aspies are visual learners and often do not present with as many fine and gross impairments.
My social life has impacted me the most. I have a strong, innate desire to connect with others and am an extrovert; however, I am socially awkward. Eye contact has always been a challenge. I think about this while I’m communicating with others. Am I staring and when do I need to look away? Dating has been a struggle no matter how cute I think I am. I often rehearse what I’m going to say right before the date. This didn’t help because I found myself monologuing about topics of interest. Connecting with others has been a problem, and I have always felt like an outsider. I often questioned why I got mistreated and taken advantage of when I truly am trying to be a good friend. Why are they bullying me when I did not do anything to them? I often felt like Forrest Gump, where students would move away from me or put bags on their chair to avoid me. People would leave the table if I sat next to them, throw paper wads at me, and whisper and snicker about me. School, social functions, and sometimes even church did not feel safe to me.
Although I graduated valedictorian of my high school and have two degrees, I still struggled academically. Math and science (especially labwork) were my most challenging subjects in school. My parents hired tutors, and I dropped out of all activities to keep my grades up. In grad school, I was only allowed two C’s, and I made two, graduating with a Masters in Speech Pathology. Additionally, reading comprehension has been a challenge, but I have excellent rote memory skills, am an amazing speller, and have been writing since I was young.
I also have poor spatial awareness. A few people have let me know about their personal bubble and to back away. Also, I’m terrible at reading maps, charts, and geometry was a huge challenge. I was scared of escalators and required motivation to get on them. I’m much better at this now.
I struggle with fine and motor skills. I’m not a good artist but still enjoy art such as painting and coloring. I am very clumsy and trip often. I have lots of bruises to prove it! I spill things a lot. I remember spilling a tray of food on some guests when I worked at a restaurant going through school. That was not a good fit. Thankfully, I went into retail and babysitting after that!
I struggle a lot emotionally. I often wonder why I have to have someone verbally walk me through simple daily tasks. I will repeat myself and ask the same question multiple times in a day. My anxiety has esculated and struggle with staying organized. I chew paper, pace while daydreaming, and hummed when I was younger. I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies and will play a conversation in my head over and over. I am also obsessed with the number seven and will read something seven times aloud. My symptoms mimic those with ADHD, as I am very hyper, impulsive, and inattentive. I’ve also became more angry over the years and will confront others if they hurt me. As you can imagine, living with this disability is dehabilitating.
I have struggled quite a bit living with this disability, but I would not cure myself if given the opportunity. It’s a part of me now. I love my gifts, especially having strong rote memorization skills and a knack for spelling and grammar. My quirks set me apart, and I love who I am. I just wished others would accept my differences too.
I am a mother to an amazing, ten year old, a school speech-language pathologist and a former teacher in a small town in West Virginia.Share your own story