During my twenties, I found it funny when a relative or friend would silence me or ask me to get to the point. I couldn’t believe I went off topic or raised my voice again. Though, the more it happened, the more it became disheartening to hear them constantly rebuke me since speech and occupational therapists in my childhood helped me comprehend my symptoms but they did not cure my learning disability.
“How do you know that,” asked a couple of friends in the past.
Some people think learning impairments run their course because, as adults, we should be able to understand grown-up things. The therapy I received in my childhood helped me better understand social cues and visual-spatial awareness. Still, as an adult with Nonverbal Learning Disability, I struggle to detect tone, sarcasm, or express the main point of a story.
Even Vyvanse–a stimulant to help me focus–can’t fix being in a place where a lot is going on and my mind might put all the attention on my surroundings to help control my tone. I can get distracted and drag a story along or the opposite happens while I’m trying to focus on the topic of conversation, unaware my voice rises. I am old enough to understand when it’s appropriate to shout. I can also explain a story in three sentences, but I just can’t flip my symptoms on and off like a light switch.
“Yes, you can. You just need to learn how differently, right,” said a relative who’s statement finally gave me the courage to tell my family and friends that I was done with the shh-ing and interruptions, especially in front of people who had the slightest idea of what was going on.
It was amusing to watch a head nod or jaw drop when I explained I had NVLD. Then, I met those who gave the oddest looks. Their brows furrowed or eyes glanced around the room…like I said, therapy helped me comprehend some social cues faster than others. I tried not letting what people thought get to me, but those faces made me realize how much learning impairments are misunderstood. By the sudden opinions they voiced, it was clear that they were judging me and I lost this sense of freedom to express myself before I confronted a friend who shhh’d me one night among people she introduced me to.
Instead of saying, I can’t help it, I waited until the opportunity opened up to speak with her privately, “Hey, can you not shhh me anymore in front of people?”
“I thought you wanted to know when you were loud,” she said and I nodded,
“Yeah, but there are other ways to tell somebody they are shouting.”
“Okay, so what do you want to do?” She asked and it hit me,
“Maybe wave your hand like not as if you’re saying ‘hi’ to someone across the room, but discreetly down in front of you.”
“Sure,” she said and the moment I saw the gesture, I lowered my tone.
My other friends and family soon followed the hand movement, giving me the courage to tell them what it felt like to hear them say, “get to the point.”
I worked my butt off with a high school speech therapist on how to have a conversation. She showed me when I went off topic or used too many descriptions. Though, some stories deserve to be told in more detail and if I feel like it, I’ll express it, leading me to explain, “…I’m usually a sentence or two away from finishing my thought, so please don’t interrupt me, anymore.”
Every friend and relative agreed and hasn’t interrupted me since. My advice to anyone who knows an adult with a learning disability (or might in the future), they most likely overcame obstacles in their past and are aware of it as much as you. Still, certain things might be tough for them to comprehend. Be patient; their brain is taking a little longer to understand things. Don’t rush it; take the time with them. Let them be them.
To every learning-impaired person, one of my biggest takeaways with having NVLD is it doesn’t define me, I define me. Your feelings and opinions are as valid as anyone else, so never be afraid to express it. If somebody makes you uncomfortable tell them and if that’s too nerve-wracking go to someone you trust, first. The reason I chose that friend was because she was the first person I revealed my NVLD to and she gave me the biggest hug after I let out those words. She didn’t judge me and I cannot stress how freeing it was to confront her, which made me realize if she didn’t like what I had to say, it was her problem not mine. Yes, we learn differently, but that shouldn’t embarrass or be used against us when our symptoms show up.
There will always be a fine line between those who are learning disabled and those who are not. No matter which one you are, the way to erase that line is listening to each other instead of reprimanding each other. People live life in many ways. Embrace it, embrace others, and learn from each other. Remember, as cheesy as it sounds, this world keeps spinning because we all learn.