I did what no other writer should do: reread the beginning of a half-completed first draft and start editing it. I can imagine any author asking, “What were you thinking? Writer’s block?”
Maybe… but I was more intimidated by my own words.
There is never an easy way to explain Nonverbal Learning Disability—a term that makes me cringe as I type. Knowing, very well, the opinions–I mean “misconceptions”– it brings with its name. Most people see an outgoing, adventurous, creative person–that of which I am. Only, my impairment can make me look loud, oblivious, and defensive when somebody tells me I am yelling, they mean this instead of that, or that they were just being sarcastic.
“I’m yelling? Sorry, I’m just excited,” I say, aware I never realize my change in tone unless at a sports game or in a concert.
“Now, I understand…” I begin and clarify what they sounded like, not mentioning I missed the concept of their point.
“Oh, funny…” I add with a laugh if I don’t snap back with a comeback.
It wasn’t until a friend called me, weird, I started to say, “I have Nonverbal Learning Disability.”
Still, weeks can pass before I take off this invisible cloak because I grew up with a stigma around disabilities. I found out about my own diagnosis when I was 14-years-old and prior to that watched, read, and observed individuals who needed constant help because they could not see, walk, hear, or were retarded. Appalled by my last word? I am. For decades, it was the way intellectually-impaired people were described and it wouldn’t shock me if learning, physical, and developmental people were placed in the same category. Out of pure ignorance, not much was discussed about disabilities and retarded was used to demean people as stupid; won’t amount to anything. Although, the dumbest thing of all was the lack of knowledge from those who used it.
I was raised to never say such things, but listening to others around me and watching the stereotype referenced in cinema or novels made it hard not to think of how people viewed disabilities versus how they saw me: an average height female with an hourglass waist, ivory skin, and long brown curls. I can speak, hear, am near-sighted, and have two functional legs. Nothing on the outside looks impaired and I wanted to keep it that way until I noticed the more we learn, the more we understand.
Today, it almost seems like every impairment has some level of difficulty. It doesn’t mean what someone has is anything less than the next person who has it or something else, but the acceptance of being different is more embraced now than it was in the past.
Don’t get me wrong, bullying and discrimination still exists. I’ve experienced both, yet also noticed how else human nature relates the familiar with the unknown. People hear “nonverbal” and assume I shouldn’t be speaking. They often allude to a form of Autism, only my nonverbal reference is due to misinterpreting social cues. The next assumption links what I have to Dyslexia—a completely separate learning disorder, where a person struggles decoding words. Someone like me has trouble processing the meaning behind them. Then, comes the last comparison, “I’ve worked with kids in wheelchairs….” the adults who said it knew I could walk and were trying to be empathetic. That observation became another reason for sharing my story.
There is never an easy way to explain Nonverbal Learning Disability because I have never met anybody who has it or who knows about it ahead of meeting me. Besides the doctor who diagnosed me, of course, but even she took days to make the conclusion. An ending, which started a new chapter in my life.
I lived a sense of normalcy before I realized nothing and nobody is normal. We each have unique qualities and expressing them is terrifying. I didn’t want to accept I was different since we create fear by being resistant to change. Judge by anticipating what is already known. Relate because human connection is built upon two people getting to know one another. What gets seen manifest beliefs; however, perception can be deceiving.
I kept editing my book because I was afraid of the stigma I once believed. Nervous I would continue to be misunderstood. Scared of not reaching an audience after putting in years of work I am now separating in blogs. It would be amazing to one day say, “I have Nonverbal Learning Disability,” and hear someone face-to-face respond, “Oh, I know what that is.” Until then, I’ll keep telling my story in a series I call;
What it’s like To Be Me