Welcome to my first blog post of the year! The topic of this post is one that has been on my mind for some time. I have shared my experience as a person with a disability on my blog before, but I have had yet to go in to detail about what my disability is. Issues that people with disabilities face is one topic that I am passionate about, and one of the reasons I started this blog. I want to raise awareness on the issues we face. In this post, I want to discuss learning disability, and raise awareness on a little known type learning disability called nonverbal learning disability.
If I were to tell a friend that I caught a cold, they would know exactly what I am going through. Chances are that I am dealing with a cough, a sneeze, and a runny nose. A name and a diagnosis leads to understanding. That type of understanding was what I craved for growing up, and what i’m still looking for in my adulthood years. I came close to that when I was diagnosed with Turner syndrome in my early teen years, and when I was officially diagnosed with learning disability in early adulthood. However, it’s not enough.
In previous posts, I have mentioned that I’ve recognized how different I am from my peers from the time I was a very small child. My Turner syndrome diagnosis answered a lot of questions for me, especially when I started to do a little research on the condition. I found that girls with Turner syndrome often have learning difficulties, and when I was diagnosed with learning disability, I was relieved to finally have a name for what I was experiencing. However, the diagnosis was Learning Disability NOS, NOS meaning not otherwise specified. Learning disability is a catch all term for a group of neurologically-based processing conditions. According to Learning Disabilities Association of America
“These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention. It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace” .
Examples of different types of leaning disabilities are
- Dyslexia – a cluster of symptoms, that results in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading.
- Dyscalculia – a learning disability in math.
- Dysgraphia – a learning disability that affects writing abilities.
- Nonverbal Learning Disability – a learning disability characterized by high verbal skills, but poor social, motor, and visual-spatial skills .
As already mentioned, learning disability is a general catch all term. “Not Otherwise Specified” is also a general term, and is often used to give a general, nonspecific diagnosis. When someone is given a diagnosis of learning disability NOS, it means the psychologist doing the testing recognizes the patient has learning difficulties, but can not pinpoint what his or her specific learning disability might be. As happy as I was to have a diagnosis, I still wished I could have gotten a diagnosis that was a little more specific and provided more answers. However, I understand why I was given the general diagnosis. Out of all the learning disabilities that I mentioned before, the only one that is not considered an official condition is nonverbal learning disability.
According to the U.S. National Organization for Rare Diseases, girls with Turner syndrome often “have difficulties with directional sense, learning math, nonverbal memory and attention. Affected females may also experience difficulty in certain social situations”. Most of the symptoms mentioned are symptoms that I have, and are also symptoms of people with nonverbal learning disability. Unfortunately, learning disabilities like dyscalculia and nonverbal learning disability do not get as much attention as language based learning disabilities that cause issues with communication, reading, and writing. Moreover, nonverbal learning disability is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is now on it’s fifth edition (DSM-5), therefore psychologists can not use the condition as an official diagnosis. Another issue is that since people with nonverbal learning disability often have issues with nonverbal communication and poor social skills, the condition is often compared to Aspergers Disorder. Nonverbal learning disability is also compared to Autism and ADHD, and children with NLD are often diagnosed with one of those conditions, which some experts believe does an injustice to the patients because they don’t get the help they really need with the wrong diagnosis.
Do I have nonverbal learning disability? Would be I diagnosed with the condition if it was recognized as an official condition? I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that I do have many of the symptoms recognized as symptoms of people with NLD. If It were to be made an official condition, then maybe there would be more answers. More answers means learning more about oneself, and learning how to handle struggles due to disability, and learning how to advocate for yourself, starts there.