The Dark Ages of NVLD, by Bill Levine

By June 28, 2019NVLD Bloggers

I am a 68-year-old who was diagnosed with NLD at the age of 49. The diagnosis mostly was a relief to me as it gave a coherence to a matrix of life-time cognitive, physical and social challenges. These challenges, when balanced against a desire to achieve richer social relationships and  greater career accomplishments, made for a life-time struggle with self-esteem. Only recently, have I fully realized that I have achieved quite a lot in life despite my NLD  disability.

I think it is great that today NLD is a recognized LD and thus intervention can begin at an early age, as us baby boomers and gen-xers had to deal with our NLD totally on our own. This lack of support made my childhood awkward and ego-deflating. Early on I had the classic NLD embarrassments of not being able to tie my shoes at the usuall age of 6 or so and also didn’t ride a bike without training wheels to around age 9. I guess even as a kid, I somewhat compartmentalized these problems, rationalizing that I could play sports OK so riding a bike was just a one-off problem. But that only helped so much. It didn’t help that my parents did get frustrated over my lack of mastery in these areas. Plus since there was no blueprint for what were potential awkward experiences for kids with NLD, my parents signed me up for an after school wood-working class when I  was 7 or 8. I hated the “Splinter Club,” as I was both bored and upset by meager wood-crafting. Plus there were older kids who made me feel uncomfortable. My ego clearly took a shellacking there.

Elementary school in the 1950s and ‘60s was the dark ages for LD kid. We were just quirky, lazy kids who had to be whipped into shape. Not having great executive function skills, my storage area under my flip-top desk was often quite messy. My fifth-grade teacher in an effort to reform me would occasionally flip open my desk top and make derisive remarks, possible even dumping stuff out, if memory serves. Then one day she really tried to teach me a lesson. What follows is an excerpt from a memoir essay I wrote that describes this unforgivable lesson:

I learned that I was the object of my classroom’s derision, via the voices ganging up on me, “Look up Bill. Wake up spaceman. Look at the lights.” It was then that I suffered a pants-wetting-worthy embarrassment. My sneakers had been tied together and hung ignominiously on the shiny fluorescent lights of our brand-new classroom, spotlighting my deficiencies. The bully perpetrator of this act was bigger than me and older than me so what could I do. Plus, she was my teacher.

Miss. K. used this incident of the traveling Keds to lecture me about my personal lack of competitive grade school focus. Standing in front of her desk she began: “Bill, I warned you that if you kept losing track of your personal things there would be consequences. I’m sure that if I opened your desk it would be completely overrun with trash. This is not kindergarten, its fifth grade. You don’t want to be our ‘disorganized genius’ forever. Hopefully by tying up your sneakers up there, I’ve taught you a lesson.”

“OK I’ll try harder,” I murmured. But really, I wished at that second that I could be a wise ass and threaten to sic my parents on Miss K. I regret that I couldn’t come by with the likes of, “You know Miss K my dad’s a dentist and he is very, very HANDY WITH the DRILL.”

My teacher clearly indulged in bullying behavior towards me, but luckily, I wasn’t bullied by classmates, but I was sometimes made fun of. As a spacey, sloppy quirky clumsy, classmate I was sometimes called “spazzy” by a chorus of my fellow 6th graders. Also, my feet protruded out so that my gait resembled a penguin’s. I was derided for this with kids imitating my walk or just calling me “penguin” etc. I didn’t have enough social skills to counter these taunts so I just sort of accepted these unwanted ribbings.

On the other hand, NLD allowed me to be a “walking encyclopedia” during my elementary school years. As a 7-year-old I got a geography book that referenced just about all the countries in the world. I was enthralled with this book and with my strong rote memory I was able to retain a lot of geographical information for a 7-year-old. Thus, began a fascination with reference books, which my parents were happy to buy for me. By 5th grade I was delighted to be known as “a walking encyclopedia” by my teachers. Sometimes my hand was the only one raised when a question on history or government was thrown out. My greatest feat of memory was reciting the whole JFK cabinet in 4th grade.

I was a good student during my elementary school years despite being unorganized and cursively challenged. I also was often chided for not spending enough time on homework because what I turned in was sometimes careless. Looking back, I think I was as hard working as my classmates, but NLD made harder for me to organize my mark which took up time I could spend on polishing assignments up. My last report card in 6th grade showed much improvement over my 5th grade and was really a top flight matrix of ratings for the 27  skills graded in my avant-garde report card. My proudest rating was in DEMONSTRATES SELF control where I got MOSTLY instead of my usually SELDOM. Seldom basically meant that I talked to classmates too often at the wrong time, like when my teacher was conducting a lesson. This resulted in a lot of detention episodes after school, I got great at end of day tasks like clapping out erasers. I was not an unruly kid or a class cut-up, I just talked too much out of turn. Looking back at my detention years, I think it may have been mostly due to not picking up clues from the teacher or more importantly from my classmates that it wasn’t time to chat.

Speaking of other friends, I was not Mr. Popularity in elementary school but I did have a couple of friends to hang around with. There were times when my I felt sadly on the fringe of 6th grade society. Such as when it was hard for me to secure a bunk mate when we went on our science trip to NH. As I mentioned I was derisively teased a little too unmercifully in these years probably because I didn’t have the social acumen to muffle the smart-alec remarks of my peers. Probably, like a lot of NLDers, I became adept at entertaining myself with reading which suited my introverted personality.

I ended my elementary school years on a powerful note, as I slammed a home-run in the annual 5th grade vs. 6th grade softball, helping us 6-graders to a victory. I was on the A squad which itself was an achievement for me. I was and still am somewhat clumsy. I remember as a 9- or 10-year-old, trying to execute a somersault in my room, falling to the side instead of moving straight ahead. But besides reading, sports were my main interest, I was lucky that I had a dad who was athletic, and drilled me, in baseball fundamentals. My hand eye coordination was good enough to turn me into a pretty good baseball as a kid coupled with this strong interest much practice and good training so I was able to tamp down NLD’s limitations.

But Junior High brought new challenges as rites of adolescence were exacerbated by my NLD.

Bill Levine

I am a 68 year old retired IT professional who was diagnosed with NVLD at age 49.

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