Succeeding at Work with a Disability

Sometimes I have to be reminded how truly fortunate I am to have a job with a flexible schedule and managers who seem to get me despite any quirks I may display. I have worked nine years at a major local department store and have thrived there even though I have a diagnosed invisible disability called nonverbal learning disability or NLD. NLD affects me in many ways in the workplace including:

  • Having difficulty with interpreting tone of voice
  • Finding it hard to interpret facial expressions, body language, and gestures
  • Understanding inferences and sarcasm
  • Displaying executive functioning issues such as planning and time management
  • Becoming stuck in routines

 

These issues have impacted me in my current job but with support from my family I have managed to compensate for these difficulties by demonstrating that I can work well independently with minimal supervision and knowing that I can always ask for help if it is necessary. Sometimes people wonder why I still work in the same place I have worked at since I graduated high school and my answer should really be that it is close to home and a place where I am understood and appreciated. You don’t always find that in a job.

I have succeeded at the store I work at mainly because my immediate supervisors and managers know that I am a very hard worker who puts 110% into everything I do and follow orders when given. I do not fool around or break any rules while working. I am punctual and efficient and credit this to being taught these principles at home. I am an example of someone who has demonstrated that a disability only holds you back if you want it to and that having a strong support system is key to overcoming any obstacles that come your way whether it is at work or in your personal life.

I am a reminder that you can flourish at work even when you have a documented disability and that by understanding your limitations you can accomplish anything you want to while working. Never give up on your dreams and work beyond your potential. You truly can be a superstar no matter where you are employed if you prove to your bosses that you are reliable and won’t do something stupid that will jeopardize your position within the company.

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Putting Some Good in the World

I am a young woman with a nonverbal learning disability which simply means that I have issues with nonverbal communication and impaired spatial ability. I have met other individuals with NLD by joining groups for individuals and parents of individuals with NLD. I have worked at a nonprofit devoted to assisting people with Turner Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality with one of the underlying issues being that girls with the condition often have NLD.

What I decided to do three years ago was to establish a new initiative called The NLD Exchange that shares resources, advice, new research, and personal perspectives into life with this learning disability and any comorbid issues that relate to the condition. The end goal for the NLD Exchange is to formally establish it as a nonprofit organization. I feel that this will serve a need that has been left unfulfilled. While other organizations do exist to help people like me there is only one other organization that specifically assists individuals with NLD.

However, what I would like to see are more resources for young adults and older adults with this learning disability. Unfortunately there is a scarcity of information out there for those who are beyond school age and I would like my initiative to advocate for further research into this condition. This is a question that has been proposed to me and I’d like to do something to answer this.

Greater visibility is crucial for NLD as many do not fully understand it or even know it exists. My desire for the NLD Exchange is to be a catalyst for change in this regard. Hopefully this can all come to fruition and I can really put some good in the world by establishing the NLD Exchange as a nonprofit. To see what I’ve created so far you can visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheNLDExchange.

 

 

The Discovery

In early 2010 my mom was doing some research online and found out about a learning disability called nonverbal learning disability. Many of the traits that individuals with this disability had were similar to those that I possessed. For example, those with NLD are often very black and white and literal in thinking which is definitely me and have poor spatial sense which is me to a tee. They can be prone to anxiety and depression due to difficulties with the subtle nuances of social communication such as nonverbal communication, body language, and social cues.

Her doctor recommended that I consult a neuropsychologist so off we went to seek answers. My entire medical history was laid out before this doctor and an appointment was made for a neuropsychological evaluation. At about the time of my evaluation I had just turned twenty which was a sad but also exciting milestone. Anyway, the evaluation was an all-day session from 10-4, and my evaluator was surprised at my verbal abilities (another classic sign of NLD—our verbal intelligence is often much stronger than our spatial intelligence.) It would be another week or so before we went back to the neuropsychologist’s office where I was formally diagnosed with NLD. It felt great to have a name for at least part of the disabilities that I had.

Now that I knew I had NLD, I started joining groups dedicated to helping individuals with NLD on Facebook as well as some email lists. I wanted to learn as much as I could about NLD and the more I found out the more I realized just how much in common I had with other individuals with this learning disability. It was the first time I was able to talk to other people who had struggled with same of the issues I’d had throughout my life. I had always felt different from others my age and now I was beginning to think that my social issues stemmed from my NLD.

My NLD has impacted my life in a variety of ways. It has affected my social skills and my ability to get around independently due to my very poor spatial abilities. I have been fortunate to have a great support system in my family and they have helped me to improve both socially and spatially. I used to get lost on the campus of the community college I attended all the time but when I transferred to a nearby university I was able to figure out the campus in a week due to the cognitive therapy I had that summer.

Can I say that life has always been easy with NLD? No, I can’t honestly say that. I can admit though that it does not define who I am as a person. I have transcended my disability and become an advocate for others with NLD through my Facebook page and have managed to maintain a part-time job at a major local department store for almost eight years. That truly is something to celebrate and I couldn’t have gotten this far without the support and guidance of my family.