Excerpt from the book Misnamed, Misdiagnosed, Misunderstood; Recognizing and Coping with NVLD (nonverbal learning disorder) from Childhood through Adulthood
Throughout my childhood and early adult years, my parents, teachers, friends, and others would get mad at me for the things I did without knowing any better. Thankfully, before my diagnosis, I had figured out ways to not only cope but remediate some of my difficulties, which I’ll talk about later on in the book.
People were often puzzled by my responses and reactions, which seemed off base compared to what actually happened or to what was being communicated. This led them to think I was not listening. Much later, my parents understood and felt bad for not knowing I wasn’t intentionally misbehaving. The root cause was my inability to interpret and process nonverbal communication.
Just like you can’t read without learning the alphabet, you can’t understand what others are communicating without interpreting nonverbal cues. Reading nonverbal communication isn’t a subject taught in school. It’s assumed that most people learn nonverbal and social communication automatically and intuitively through visual observation and role-modeling of others, a process that begins in early childhood and continues throughout the school years.
One of the things I really struggled with was reading facial expressions that were neutral—also referred to as a “resting face”—and showed very little to no emotion. Unlike my peers, I wasn’t able to intuitively and effortlessly gauge a person’s mood, the setting, or the situation and adjust my behavioral responses accordingly. My mind was flooded with endless questions I couldn’t answer. Did I do something wrong? Are they mad at me? Why am I being ignored? Am I wanted here? Should I stay or leave? What happened? What did they mean when they said that? What should I have done instead?
When I couldn’t figure out what had happened or what was expected of me, I assumed I was responsible for the feelings of others and blamed myself. It was easier to withdraw socially than to be misunderstood. It’s like being told the color you see as red is blue. I lived with chronic anxiety, feeling as if the ground beneath my feet was unstable and shaky, as if I were walking on Jell-O.
Many times, when I asked my mother if she was mad at me, she would say, “No.” After some time passed and I still couldn’t figure out what was going on, I would ask again, “Are you sure you’re not mad at me?” This cycle would repeat itself. Each time, I would change the words, but, essentially, I was just asking the same thing over and over again in different ways. When she asked me, “Why do you think I’m mad?” I would give her a list of reasons: “You’re not talking to me; you sounded angry; you said this, or you didn’t say that…” I could be relentless and get on her last nerve until she was at her wit’s end! When she finally reached her breaking point, she would yell at me to stop asking her. Once I understood she was not upset about me or about a specific issue, I’d calm down.
Linda Karanzalis, MS, BCCS
Linda Karanzalis, MS, BCCS is the author Misnamed, Misdiagnosed, Misunderstood; Recognizing and coping with NVLD from Childhood through Adulthood. Linda’s book is endorsed by Dr. Hallowell, a New York Times best selling author and awarded the Mom’s Choice Award Honoring Excellence. She has over 25 years of experience specializing in working with individuals with NVLD, ADHD, and learning disabilities. In 1997 she founded ADDvantages Learning Center in New Jersey to students of all ages to reach their potential through executive functioning training, social-emotional skills development, and parent coaching. In 2020 she presented on NVLD at the Learning Disabilities Association of America’s national conference. Linda is a Social Ambassador for The NVLD Project and has served as a chapter coordinator for the non-profit organization CHADD (children and adults with ADHD) Karanzalis was recognized as one of “South Jersey’s Top 35 Superwomen” in 2012 by South Jersey Magazine for her contributions in helping others to achieve success. www.addvantageslearningcenter.