Living independently for the first time. Moving for a new job. Adapting after trauma. Giving your lifetime “yes” to your spouse at the altar. Saying “goodbye” to a loved one well before her time. Battling a chronic illness. Watching your daughter walk across the stage at his college graduation.
Transitions come in all shapes and sizes and act as one of the defining threads of this tapestry of life. Although they pose challenges for everyone at some point, individuals with neurological differences may encounter particular difficulty with various types of transitions. Many individuals with an autism spectrum disorder are prone to meltdowns when transitioning from one activity to another, particularly when the shifting of gears is not predictable and seamless. Those of us with a nonverbal learning disability may also enter an “ autopilot shut-down mode” in spite of an effort to apply the brakes. Although we may not gain substantial benefit from visual aids, we can enlist verbal strategies to ensure that the navigation into uncharted waters is minimally choppy.
I recently moved for the first time in nine years. I had aspired to attain a new job position in a preferred setting for years, but it seemed as if I had practically exhausted all avenues and resources to make that happen. To my dismay and delight, I was offered a position (for which I technically did not apply) in mid-December, two weeks before I would embark on a planned volunteer trip at a zoo in Belize. Although I was very grateful and relieved, I was well-aware of the arduous nature of resigning from my position after six years, bidding farewell to students and parents, moving to a new apartment in a new county, changing churches, and discontinuing my role as a youth ministry volunteer and reader at Mass there.
In spite of being in my thirties, I would assert that I had completed the “growing up” phases in the apartment that I had taken independent residence after securing my first professional job and beginning my graduate program online. I was not certain if I could intrepidly sail through several simultaneous transitions, especially in light of quotidian battles with severe anxiety and mood lability as well as general “exacerbation” of the struggles of NLD since the onset of trauma from a failed friendship from three years ago. I had generally managed to compensate for the heightened insecurity, internalization, mental fog, aloofness, reduced threshold for emotional anguish, and increased sense of being lost and confused when at work and in most social interactions, but feared that a change in course of this magnitude without a “verbal map” would sink the ship.
Before setting sail on any odyssey, it is always advisable to calibrate your compass. Focus on what you can control and put “all words on deck.” Develop a detailed checklist for each phase (and actually check off each task upon its execution). Create your own social narrative (“social story”) to help orient yourself to the new expectations. Ask your new employer specific questions and, if appropriate, convey to him/her that you prefer specific instructions and structure when it is feasible.
Because individuals with NLD may become lost in the process, it is advisable to obtain a clear understanding of the expected outcomes. If you are concerned that you will appear inordinately quizzical, write them all out in advance and select a few to ask each day. Endeavor to own the challenges of NLD without making excuses. Reassurance is sometimes necessary in NLD. The perfectionism that is often characteristic of this condition may go into overdrive when anxiety takes the helm, rendering it difficult to acknowledge accomplishments and feel a sense of fulfillment. It is obviously not prudent to rely upon the validation of others, but the stability that words of affirmation provide can minimize the tumult of the transition.
Maintaining frequent contact with a long-time friend, mentor, or relative who can serve as a listener and anchor is vital. If it is too difficult to organize your thoughts to engage in a coherent conversation or if you’re afraid that you may monopolize the intended dialogue, it may be more beneficial to get permission to send the confidant an “emotional release” of text messages (directly through your phone or a social media app). Lastly, embrace a spirit of gratitude for all of your blessings and successes and capitalize upon your verbal aptitude to propel you forward.
As a speech-language pathologist and youth ministry volunteer, I am passionate about empowering others to employ their strengths to compensate for challenges and reach their full potential. I enjoy participating in church activities, running, and handling animals for guest encounters at a science center.Share your own story