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Tera's NLD Jumpstation:
A Resource on Nonverbal Learning Disabilities by an NLD Person
Hello! My name is Tera Kirk, I'm 18 years old (as of February 7, 1998), and I have the NLD syndrome. I wanted to create this page in order to help others understand a little better what Nonverbal Learning Disabilities are, how people with NLD think and perceive things (well, at least, how I think and perceive things), and all the ways we, like everyone else, can help to make this world a better place. So...
What ARE Nonverbal Learning Disabilities, Anyway?
The NLD syndrome could have been around since the dawn of mankind (I think). Who knows? Maybe cavemen were having conversations like this all over the world:
"Hey, Thorg! I said over there!"
"Put the rock over there, Thorg!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, never mind!"
However, it was only recently discovered (within the last 40-odd years), and most people don't know it exists. But now you do, and you're ready for my disclaimer, which reads as follows:
Okay...first of all, I'm not a doctor. My experiences of having NLD are my own, and that's all they are. That said...
What Difficulties do People With NLD Have?
The NLD syndrome can affect three basic spheres of development, and they are:
*Motor skills, and
Children and adults with this syndrome frequently have trouble with spatial perception (which results in often getting lost), mathematics (especially with operations like borrowing or algebra), and visual memory (for example, an NLD person may have difficulty telling someone what his house looks like, or finding it in a string of houses).
Motor problems include a lateness in learning to walk (I myself walked at fifteen months of age), problems tying shoes, getting dressed, brushing teeth, combing hair, feeding oneself, and kicking or hitting a ball. For me, vacuuming is especially difficult because it involves both motor skills and visio-spatial ones. (You have to remember where you vacuumed last and know where you can go next).
The sphere that I personally have the least problems with is social development. (However, this sphere can be the most troubling of the three for some people). Common social problems include difficulty reading facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. I know that, as a child, I didn't like characters like Snoopy and Woodstock from the Peanuts gang because they didn't talk. I also find Kenny from the show South Park annoying for the same reason. Gullibility is also a symptom of NLD, as is taking things literally--both are also symptoms of autism and Asperger's Syndrome. I know when I was little, my friends used to play tricks on me and they'd say, "Tera, you're so gullible!" but I'm not sure if it was because of my NLD or other factors. (I'm also an only child).
Is There Anything GOOD about this Disorder?
Despite their diverse problems, people with NLD have many assets. You know how matter can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only change places? (Yeah, think back to 9th grade science class, people--I know it's hard). Well, I think the same is true for NLD people, and people with disabilities in general. Is as if the energy our brains would have used for spatial navigation, visual memory, and decoding nonverbal signals has gone somewhere else--namely, to the more verbal, logical part of our brains. (This stuff, incidentally, is located in the left hemisphere--NLD usually involves damage to the right hemisphere, which deals with recognising visio-spatial information and the nonverbal aspects of human behavior, among other things).
Some children with NLD learn to speak and read early. According to my mom, who is THE authority on everything I do, I spoke my first words when I was seven months old. By the time I was two I could recite the alphabet and count to twenty. One year later, I taught myself to read. (Reading before the age of five is called hyperlexia, and often occurs in NLD and some forms of autism). Conversely, some children with NLD have difficulty learning to speak and read, and may even be misdiagnosed with a reading disorder in their early school years. However, once they get the hang of it, their vocabulary and reading level increase rapidly, and soon they have surpassed many of their peers in thes areas.
People with NLD also can have superb rote verbal memory skills. This means we are able to remember things like song lyrics, word spellings, and new words. As a child, I was something of a parrot, able to repeat whole chapters from my 3rd grade science book verbatim. My memory helps me memorize speeches, dates, and definitions. I love foreign languages. Today, I'm in my third year of Latin and my second year of Spanish. For the last two years I've received gold medals on the National Latin Exam, and I have As in both classes now. As I've said earlier, arithmetic can be difficult for people with NLD to master; however, their memories can make them excellent counters, and can also make them top adders in their early years. When I was in kindergarten, I knew things like 5 plus 5 and 3 minus 2, and I was able to do first grade work. Problems began to occur in second and third grade, when I was expected to borrow. Arithmetic is, I've since learned, an essentially right-hemispheric process, which is probably why people with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities can have such trouble with it.
NLD persons can be taught to use their prodigious memories to help them navigate through space. For example, I've learned to memorize the license plate of my mom's car so I can find it. We can also memorize house numbers, or learn to look for landmarks with words, like signs. (Often, though, it's hard for me personally to find street signs; some other things, like houses with unusual colors, might also work as landmarks).
So, What do Things Look Like to You Guys?
What is it like to have visio-spatial problems? Well, I don't actually consider them problems. Sometimes it's as though I see things in pieces--I break rooms and objects down into simple visual bits, like colors. In first grade, I went to class in what I thought of as a "White Room." It had white walls and a carpet that only seemed to accentuate their whiteness. I know a room by the color of the walls or of the floor, rarely both at once. When I was little, I was always told that I watched my feet. This was because most of my landmarks were on the ground.
Another symptom of NLD which I have is glazed eyes. (This isn't constant, and for years my "staring spells" were mistaken as a sign of epilepsy). Older kids often said to me, "What's wrong with you? Do you have a staring problem or something?", probably because I was staring at them and it made them uncomfortable. Actually, for me, these "staring spells" are, I think, a compensation to keep me from being overwhelmed by visual stimuli. As I've said, it takes me a while to decipher what it is I'm looking at, and if there are too many things to decipher it can cause overload and I need to visually shut down. It can happen when I'm lost, tired, hungry or stressed. It happened a lot more when I was younger, and was likely to happen on the playground, when everybody was running around.
What Can I do to Help?
If you have NLD, know someone who does, or just want more information, you can check out the links section of this page. There are also links to information about software and games which might be helpful for people with motor or visio-spatial difficulties. A lot of it is shareware/freeware, so if you are a concerned parent or teacher, you can take a look.
An article about me that appeared in the Omaha World-Herald on June 12, 1998.
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