Many people with nonverbal learning have difficulty managing their tone of voice. It’s a common characteristic of NVLD that often goes unacknowledged.
Yeah, we are those slightly off people in situations that often require a quiet environment—a too loud whisper in a library? Asking for help for seating at a funeral? That’s me, and probably a few others with NVLD as well.
And I’m sorry—I did not mean to do it. I feel embarrassed during these situations, and I do not mean it to be rude. It’s because I literally do not hear the tone and due to my social processing issues. This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon for many with processing disorders, such as Asperger’s, of which NVLD has some similarities, such as missing social cues, a lack of spatial cognition, and, of course, the aforementioned difficulty in interpreting how our voices should be maintained in a situation with other people.
For those of us with a non-verbal learning disability, auditory processing can often be a hallmark of our learning disability. From my perspective, we hear our voices at the same volume as the voices around us, and do not need to be concerned about volume or tone. As auditory processing is often part of verbal and social interactions, it naturally becomes a struggle for neurodiverse individuals such as myself. This lack of volume control and tone is often accompanied by an elaborate vocabulary, offset by the fact that I have the social memory of a goldfish. Hence, I was great at speech, but terrible at theater, as memorizing lines became especially hard. (Plus that whole fact that I was generally a foot taller then most of my male counterparts in theater, I think that played a significant role as well!)
Speaking of gender stereotypes, to make things even more challenging for myself, I have a deep voice for a woman. Paired with my tall, somewhat intimidating frame, it can be offsetting in a quieter social situation. So when someone like me is talking loudly, it can become uncomfortable for many.
To say I have annoyed the bejesus out of a lot of people is the understatement of the year. From girls at Ranch Camp telling me not to sing along with them due to being ‘too loud’ or a classmate yelling at me to lower my voice during a lecture, my tone and voice have surely betrayed my learning disability more than any IEP could.
However, I was fortunate to be able to hit a niche stride as a young adult: I love to tell people about fascinating subjects, especially ones in which people wrote off as boring or lame. Places like art galleries and museum halls needed (and still need, if they are open during COVID) people with big, booming voices.
And that’s where I didn’t necessarily find my voice, but I gave it direction. Starting as an education intern at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History while I was an undergraduate at University of Oregon, I learned how to give tours and use my loud voice to give credence and answer questions for those who did not have the direct answers. As a museum educator, as well as an occasional university lecturer during my doctoral studies at University of Illinois at Chicago, I found my loud, directive voice especially good at commanding attention, even if the topics were less than thrilling.
When I took my current role as a director for a major nonprofit, I found myself leading workshops and trainings for both colleagues and subordinates, including educators being trained in our curriculum.
The number one praise I received? That my voice was clear, loud, and easy to understand!