What to expect from an adult with NLD/NVLD?
March 16, 2009 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Online dating filter: I have been chatting back and forth with a guy who let me know he has Nonverbal Learning Disability. Looking for advice/experience.

Longer details: I have been talking with this guys for a bit and really seem to get along well. He has some quirky things that made me pause, but who hasn't said things weird over the internet? Last night, in the course of conversation, he explained that he was been diagnosed with NLD/NVLD. He explained a little that it affected him socially with relationships, along with motor skills and school difficulties, but I didn't want to push/be nosy so I have some lingering questions that I thought I would turn to MeFi to help. I know I will probably just meet him and see or eventually ask him more details if this progresses, but I just want to (nonjudgementally) get a sense of this now. As someone who has been diagnosed with depression (although mild), I certainly understand that a diagnosis is not everything that makes up a person.

Most of the research online about this seems to relate to children. It seems to be similar (though I understand not exactly the same) as Asperger. Does anyone have any experience with this in adult children or adult friends/partners?

To reiterate - I hope this doesn't receive backlash - please understand that I am just trying to learn more and not assume he fits into any categories exactly, etc.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been diagnosed with Asperger's. I'm relatively mildly affected by it, and principally it means that body language is often incomprehensible to me. I have to concentrate to figure out how someone is reacting to what I've said and this can affect things like being completely unaware of when someone is flirting with me and being mistaken about moods. I also have a tendency to take things literally which are meant in a very different way, although I'm getting better at this.

Most importantly I would say, until you know where his blind spots are, be careful to say what you mean and avoid ambiguity especially. Good luck!
posted by fearnothing at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2009

NVLD/NLD is often similar to Asperger syndrome in terms of what you should expect from a partner. As you've already realized, you're going to have to meet him in person and spend some time around him, because there isn't really one type of NLD/AS. NLD is usually considered an educational or psychoeducational disability, while AS is a (neuro)psychological diagnosis listed in the DSM. The labeling is crude and not altogether useful once you get into this realm of mild forms of autism, associated learning disabilities or processing disorders, ADHD, etc. because so many of the conditions overlap heavily. Not all people with an NLD learning profile have the same social issues associated with AS.

What NLD means in the context of your potential guyfriend depends on who diagnosed him, for what reason, how long he's had the diagnosis, and how severe it is. Based on your mention of his social issues, he's probably going to be fairly similar to someone with AS, but it's possible the LD part will be more prominent.

Some possible examples of difficulties to expect. Everyone is different, so not all of these will apply. Don't get freaked out by the length of this list. All of this together can sound worse than it actually is.

Spatial stuff:
  • He may bump into or trip over things constantly: furniture, doors, small animals, anything within a 5-foot radius of the body. Flat surfaces can be tripped over.
  • He may not drive a car because he finds negotiating space and time at high speeds difficult.
  • He might be slow walking down the stairs or getting on an escalator.
  • He may be hopeless at mini-golf, frisbee, baseball, dancing.
  • He may not enjoy many video games.
  • Things requiring organizational skills, especially spatial ones, may be difficult. He might find it oddly hard to load/unload a dishwasher, to clean a messy room, or to keep a clean one organized. (No jokes about slobby guys — I'm being serious.)
  • He may get lost in his own neighborhood, or have difficulty reading maps. He may find it hard to get all the things he needs in a megasupermarket with a complicated layout.
  • He may have difficulty estimating quantities or comparing amounts visually. Don't be surprised if you ask him about how many people were at a party he went to and he looks baffled, or if you call him to ask how much milk is left in the fridge and he's unable to guess how much is in the jug even though he's staring right at it.
Other stuff:
  • He might find it difficult to break down and organize a large project, like writing an essay.
  • He might lose things chronically.
  • He may have terrible handwriting or avoid writing things down because he finds handwriting difficult or slow. Dysgraphia is the term for marked difficulty in fluent handwriting.
  • He may have a lot of difficulty with mathematical concepts beyond basic arithmetic.
  • He may find it difficult to keep track of time, to estimate how long something will take, or to be punctual.
  • He might have problems reading facial expressions and body language; he may misinterpret social interactions, or not recognize "obvious" nonverbal signals that you're quietly angry about something. He may not always recognize sarcasm.
  • He may be more literal-minded than average. "How many people showed up to the Hendersons' party?" "I don't know, I didn't count them." "But about how many?" "I told you, I didn't count them! How am I supposed to know?"
  • He may be somewhat more gullible than average.
  • Similarly, he may be a heavy and fast reader with an excellent factual recall but without taking away some of the depth, greater point, or hidden meaning of the text. He may have trouble keeping track of the plot of a book or movie.
  • He may have associated disorders like [central] auditory processing disorder (CAPD/APD), and have trouble following conversations over the phone, or following dialogue in a movie unless the subtitles are on. He may forget or misremember instructions given to him out loud and may need to have them given to him on a list.
  • He may have sensory difficulties; he may be unable to use touch to construct a mental map of something, he may be painfully sensitive to certain types of touch and sound.
  • He may find it difficult to take and organize notes as a student in a lecture class.
There are also sometimes enhancements of verbal/auditory abilities that go along with NLD:
  • He might be a quick reader, and find it effortless to get through a novel in a couple days, or five magazines in one evening.
  • He may have an unusually good memory for facts and factual details.
  • He may notice small details that others ignore.
  • He may be a very good writer or have an extensive vocabulary. He may be an excellent proofreader of written work.
  • He is likely to be an excellent speller.
  • He may have learned to speak or read very early as a child.
  • He may have an unusually good auditory memory (strange as it sounds, this can even go along with APD). He may remember song melodies or words after only a few listens or may be able to recite long lengths of dialogue from a lot of movies he likes.
  • He may have a serious love of music.
  • He may be more trusting, more honest, and more open than average.
Anyway. I'm sure you've already done this, but the best one-site resource right now for NLD is NLDline (has some articles on NLD in adults and on AS vs. NLD), while for AS I suggest OASIS and maybe WrongPlanet. If you look at online forums, don't read too heavily into them, because the people who post there are often either extremely interested in (read: obsessed with) their own diagnosis or are having unhappy problems with a child or partner. Happy partners don't usually seek out online support forums.

Anecdotally: I have several "conditions," including ADHD, AS/NLD, some specific learning disabilities, mental health issues. All of my relationships have been excellent experiences, including my current one. I have spent a long time polishing my social skills. I pass for normal in most situations, although my significant other, my family, and to a lesser extent, my colleagues are all aware that I'm "unusual" and have certain inabilities and quirks. Many of the things I listed above are drawn from my personal experience, but not all of them apply: I'm a scientist in a mathematically-heavy discipline and I have a very good sense of direction, but I still find it difficult to get on an escalator.

Everyone who has known me for a while is also aware (I hope; they seem to like me, anyway) that my intentions are generally good even when I make a strange mistake or blurt out something without context. If you can get to know your guyfriend as a whole person and if he's a good fellow, many of his quirks will start to seem — not irrelevant, because you may have to be the one who keeps track of the milk in the fridge — but still irrelevant in a greater sense. If he's not a good fellow, it wouldn't matter if he could estimate the contents of the milk jug to within half an ounce. Friendship and love are funny like that.
posted by jeeves at 4:04 PM on March 16, 2009 [16 favorites]

My adult daughter has NVLD and currently lives at home. NVLD impairs her in some ways, yet she is an especially lovely and lovable person...I don't say that just because she is my daughter...Mature adults who take time to know her find her an especially kind, supportive and loyal friend who brings honesty and integrity to her relationships, as well as good sense.

Some people with NVLD are able get a full education, to support themselves, live on their own and be pretty self-sufficient. Others are more impaired and may need to be on disability. And there are many places in-between. I have a friend who married a man w/ NVLD. She told me she was drawn to his very sweet persona. That seems to be a hallmark of people w/ NVLD...several therapists and folks who work w/ NVLD adults attest to that. People with NVLD are generally honest, sometimes to a fault, fair-minded, and loving. They have difficulty with nonverbal communication...my daughter often asks me after we're in a social situation what was going on. What did someone mean when they said this or that, or did something that everyone else in the conversation understood, b/c of nonverbal cues...ex. tone of voice, gestures, or something inherent in the situation...that she just didn't pick up on. That is such a minimal description, I know. Dr Byron Rourke is internationally renowned in research and writing on NVLD. You can find his page here. There's a lot to read but the Q and A section is especially informative, as you can go through the questions and pick out the ones that are most useful to you. I sympathize with the difficulty you find searching the internet as there is precious little information available about adults with NVLD. I would be glad to correspond w/ you on Mefi email if have specific questions that I maybe can answer as the parent of an adult with NVLD.
posted by mumstheword at 4:15 PM on March 16, 2009

Oh, also in the "benefits" section, some people with NLD are unusually good at learning new languages. I know one who speaks, reads, and writes more than five languages fluently and learned all but the first as an adult, but he needs a map to get around a midsized town where he's lived for over thirty years, and he takes forever to figure out how to read the map every time he does it.
posted by jeeves at 4:16 PM on March 16, 2009

Mod note: This is a comment from an anonymous respondent.
I was diagnosed with NLD a few months ago when it was originally suspected than I had inattentive ADHD. I'm well aware that in some people it manifests itself much like Asperger's, but that's not really the case with me or all people with NLD. Perhaps I am some odd boundary case?

I was one of the people who ended up with the learning disability problems that jeeves mentioned. However, me and my doctors generally agree that I've been spared of Asperger's-eqsue social difficulties like an inability to read facial expressions or social cues. Nor do I have that sweet persona that mumstheword mentions. I've always been good with recognizing and delivering sarcasm and double entendres. The social second-guessing I've always done comes from long-standing issues with my self-esteem, rather than having a lack of understanding of social communication. That said, I don't think my NLD has really impacted any of my (many) platonic and romantic relationships, except for being too disorganized to get to dates on time, etc.

Essentially, I'm just a typical twenty-something woman with who's hopelessly disorganized, focuses on the tiny details a little too much and is more klutzy than average. Your guy may not be the male version of me, but it's nonetheless important to recognize the variation within an NLD diagnosis.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:02 AM on June 3, 2009

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