So you’ve just received a diagnosis that you have Nonverbal Learning Disability, or NVLD. Maybe right now you are feeling shocked; or maybe you had a feeling that something was “off,” and you’re relieved to finally know what it is. The big question is: now what?
NVLD is a kind of learning disorder that is not verbal in nature, as its name suggests. You may be a very verbal person, and a great reader, too! But NVLD can pose challenges when it comes to understanding all the information that you take in—be it from reading, social situations, linking big ideas together to analyze and form opinions or draw conclusions, etc.
The truth is that NVLD can make it very difficult to recognize and understand patterns or general concepts. And it can make it even harder to apply these learned patterns like a lens on new situations. If you have NVLD, you might know that there is a lot of talk about its relation to Autism spectrum disorders. And yet, NVLD does not have an official medical diagnosis, so it can be stressful to understand how to help yourself manage your disability when it is still in the early stages of being completely understood.
Often, the focus on how to cope with or manage learning disabilities is squarely focused on children. But what about if you’re an adult? Getting an NVLD diagnosis when you are in college or already working can be a big “aha!” moment, and it might finally make sense why you’ve had so much difficulty getting through all your tasks before. If you’ve managed to handle your academic, professional and family responsibilities to some degree, then you know that you are competent and capable of change. But having an NVLD diagnosis can mean that it’s time to take some new approaches to your cognitive and social functioning. Here are some tips for navigating the process of life with NVLD:
1. Talk to someone about it
It’s important to take care of your emotional well-being when you have a learning disability that can add to your stress and anxiety. NVLD may make you feel overwhelmed as you keep up with the tasks or assignments you have at work and school, and also in your personal life. Establishing good mental health practices such as seeing a psychiatrist or therapist can help you to manage the emotional burden that having NVLD can cause you to feel. With the help of a professional, you can begin to explore practices that help you to keep you mental health in check, managing the emotional aspects of your life so that you can feel empowered to handle everything else that you’ve got going on.
Speaking to a therapist can also be extremely helpful when your learning disability makes you feel misunderstood. Social interactions can be tough for people with NVLD, and a good therapist can help you navigate your personal and professional relationships. Just because you have a learning disability doesn’t mean that you aren’t whole or complete, and capable of achieving great things! Good therapy can help you fulfill the basic human needs of being understood, proud of your accomplishments, and ready for new challenges.
2. Do some reflective thinking about your strengths and your challenges
NVLD can make certain things challenging, such as recognizing patterns, abstract reasoning, social cues and executive functioning (a fancy term for “organizational skills”). You might know very well where your strengths and weaknesses lie, or you might need the help of a friend or loved one in order to figure these out. It’s a great idea to take some time to reflect on what you consider to be your strongest abilities, and which areas you need to strengthen. You can ask for help, or compare notes with someone you trust after you think about this on your own. Once you have a good idea of what skills belong in each “column” for you, you can start to think about your perception of yourself and how it compares with other people’s perceptions of you. You might find that you’ve got good self-awareness, or that you’re even being too hard on yourself! A little bit of self-love goes a long way, especially when you’re dealing with the stress and emotion of starting to figure out how to deal with NVLD.
Everyone has room for a little bit of self-improvement, and once you have a clear picture of which areas you need to (and want to) improve on, you can start to devise a plan.
3. Get some help with your cognition
If you’ve gotten an NVLD diagnosis, chances are you’ve had a neuropsychological evaluation. That’s great! A neuropsychological evaluation is packed with information about your unique learning profile– almost like a thumbprint of your brain, since no two people are exactly alike. If you still need some help deciphering what all of the information in your evaluation means (although your evaluator probably explained your results to you in a report), you might enlist the help of an Educational Therapist who can help you to more deeply understand yourself and to help others understand you is a great step toward creating the relationships and success that you want for yourself.
Educational Therapists can act like a “gatekeeper” for all of your learning issues. They can help you to pass correct and valuable information between all of the people on your personal “team,” such as doctors, therapists, teachers, and family members. Because NVLD is often misunderstood, having an expert explain what NVLD is and how it affects you can take a huge weight off your shoulders. Remember that you don’t need to go through this alone, and Educational Therapists, learning specialist, and other allied professionals can help you to make sense of everything you are now discovering about yourself.
Educational Therapists are highly trained to help you with your unique areas of need. They can help you learn better organization skills by strengthening your executive functions, and can help you to understand how to break down seemingly impossible tasks into manageable steps (NVLD people often have issues understanding part-whole relationships, so a project at work or school could be torture for you, especially if you feel like you don’t know what your end result should “look” like). An Educational Therapist with a strong background in treating NVLD clients can help you to learn how to navigate the social aspects of learning (for example, if you misread social cues in your classes during group or peer activities, or if you have difficulty with interactions at meetings at work, Educational Therapy could be a great option for you).
Through role playing, problem solving, and exploration, an Educational Therapist can help you to create a “short list” of sorts; one that you can then apply to different situations in your life as you need them. You’ll find that when you feel that you know what you need to do, there is so much less pressure on you, and you’ll realize that your NVLD need not define you or hold you back from reaching your full potential.
4. Find ways to make your tasks and responsibilities easier
Who doesn’t want to make life a little easier? Once you have a better idea of what kinds of things are difficult for you, it can be easy to find products and “life hacks” that help you to manage them better.
Do you have trouble remembering your appointments, classes or work meetings? Or do you have a hard time figuring out the best order in which to get your tasks done? There are dozens of planners available that use research-based methods to help you stay organized and productive. Color coding your appointments can help you to visualize what you need to do, and when. We also highly suggest Marydee Sklar’s Seeing My Time program.
Does your time escape you? Do you find that you frequently “fall down the rabbit hole” while you try to get work done, spending hours on something when you thought you only spent a few minutes? A good old-fashioned kitchen timer might be just the thing you need. Maybe you might try learning about the Pomodoro Method, which uses quick 15 or 25 minute bursts of distraction-free work followed by short breaks to give your mind a rest.
Is your workspace (at home or on the job) a mess? Perhaps you need a filing cabinet with folders, or a way to keep all of your chargers neat and accessible. Lucite desk organizers are a good way to keep your papers organized, or you could use an accordion file to color code your daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities. Stores like Ikea, Muji, Michael’s or the Container Store all have great options, depending on what you need.
Do you frequently travel for work, but have a hard time keeping your items organized? Packing cubes might help you to keep all of your items neat and organized, reducing the stress that business travel often comes with.
Everyone’s life and lifestyle is different, so it’s a great idea to make a list of the things you do most often that you find most difficult. Again, enlisting the help of a friend, loved one, or Educational Therapist is a great idea. Once you can identify the repeat tasks in your life that cause you trouble, it becomes easier to find solutions.
5. Find a support system
We’ve said it before: you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to deal with your NVLD diagnosis alone. With the right support system, learning how to navigate life with NVLD can be much easier. If you’re unsure of how to explain NVLD to friends and family, there are plenty of options that can help guide you in this process. You might refer them to the wonderful resources at www.nvld.org, or you might task a professional (such as an Educational Therapist or Neuropsychologist) with this job. Either way, the more awareness you create about your diagnosis, the better you will be understood by others.
If you are a student, it is a very good idea to consider sharing your diagnosis with your school or university. Most institutions have centers for academic support, where specialists can help relay information about your diagnosis to interested parties such as professors and staff. If you are working, you might want to consider how and to whom you should disclose your diagnosis. When you have a good understanding of what you need to succeed in the workplace or at school, asking for your needs to be met can help you to get your work done better. If you need help with how to go about doing this, get in touch with an expert who is familiar with NVLD.
It’s important to remember that you are the same person that you were before you received your diagnosis. Having NVLD (or any learning disability, for that matter) does not make you less– it makes you unique! Remember that your ability to see the world through a different lens is a gift. That gift may make some areas of life more challenging, but it makes you who you are. Take a deep breath and remind yourself of a few things:
- You are special
- You can be successful
- NVLD is only a part of who you are, much like your hair, skin or eye color.
Practicing mindfulness might help you to put all of these things into perspective. And let’s not forget the importance of physical activity— research has shown that moving your body each day has both physical and emotional benefits. Maybe you like to relieve your stress by pounding the pavement; or maybe you prefer to calm and clear your mind with a yoga practice. Whatever it is, it’s important to take time for yourself each day so that you have the mental and physical strength to handle what’s ahead of you. NVLD can make some things hard, but having a positive attitude can be the first step in learning how to manage your learning issue so that it does not hold you back from all that you are capable of.
Annalisa Perfetto, Ph.D.
Annalisa Perfetto, Ph.D. is an Educational Therapist and Literacy Specialist who, together with Susan Micari, BCET has started a practice for adults with learning disabilities called EdTherapyNYC. This practice addresses dyslexia, NVLD, ADHD and executive function deficits in adults who are in college, graduate school, and the work force.
Annalisa has 10 years of experience in the education industry, and shifted from her career as a foreign language teacher when she realized that many of her adolescent and young adult students struggled to read and learn. Annalisa’s academic articles have appeared in several edited volumes and journals like The Oklahoma Reader. In 2018 she was nominated for the International Literacy Association’s 30 Under 30 and was also awarded the 2019 Outstanding Author Contribution Award by Emerald Press for her article Disruptive Innovations for Teacher Education.Share your own story