As some of you probably know, this week marks the twentieth anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Why am I mentioning this here? Well, because I am learning disabled; specifically, I have a non-verbal learning disability, (or NLD). My mom, a third-grade teacher, informs me that it’s now abbreviated to NVLD. Growing up, I simply thought I had a math disability. When I was re-tested in high school, I found out I had a non-verbal learning disability.
None of these various terms have changed my life dramatically. If you’re not familiar with NLD (it’s not one of those common or “cool” diagnoses like dyslexia), it means I’m terrible at math and science; I have poor visual spatial sense (meaning, I have no sense of direction and can’t read a map); I have trouble with affect in my verbal and facial expression; I have trouble with other’s non-verbal cues; and, perhaps worst of all, I’m bad at multi-step verbal instructions. Jealous yet? If you’re looking for a disabled person who has “risen above” her difficulties in life, go watch “Oprah.”
My disability has caused me some difficulty maintaining friendships in life, due to my obsessions with various topics and general nerdiness, particularly in high school. I played trombone and was on the debate team. For whatever reason, these things did not make me popular. I was particularly hurt when one of my best friends, Ethel* (name changed to protect the bitchy) dropped me in tenth grade. Fortunately, now that I’m in my late twenties, I realize not everyone wants to discuss the poetry of William Blake ad nauseam. [Editor’s note: I do!!!]
Nevertheless, there are advantages to my learning disability. For one thing, the ability to become very focused on a particular subject is useful in college. I graduated with a high GPA. I’m not going to say what, since that’s pretty much the academic equivalent of whipping out a ruler…
Then again, even if you feel on top of the world in college, once you graduate, you realize employers aren’t saying, “Wow, she knows a lot about the Indian Partition! Let’s hire her!”
I’d also like to take a moment to address the absurd language people now use to describe various disabilities, chiefly “differently abled.” As usual, George Carlin put it better than I ever could:
“I believe that if a person is going to insist on using tortured language such as differently abled, then he should be forced to use it to describe everyone. We’re all differently abled. You can do things I can’t do, I can do things you can’t do. Barry Bonds can’t play the cello, Yo-Yo Ma can’t hit the curveball. They’re differently abled.”
There are definitely days when I wish I was simply “average” across the board — neither dramatically flawed nor exceptional, just one of your “Ethels” who you can distract with a shoe sale. But I have to accept who I am, including my flaws (though God forbid I should go on the lecture circuit preaching self-acceptance). And I really do know a lot about esoteric topics, should any readers be hiring…