Believe you may have NLD? Support group may help

Issue April 2004

Q:After too many years of struggling to understand and correct my persistent problem with organizing my work, and with feeling like "I just don't get it," I have learned through testing by a neuropsychologist that I have NLD, or non-verbal learning disorder. Though there is some comfort in identifying the nature of my difficulty, I am enormously dismayed to learn that there is no "cure," no way to free myself of this affliction which, despite a high IQ, hinders my attainment of career goals. I am curious to learn whether other lawyers have sought your assistance for NLD, and what suggestions or assistance you may offer them.

A:LCL has learned more about NLD, a relatively new diagnosis, in response to several recently diagnosed lawyers who each sought assistance with the emotional and functional consequences of this condition. NLD is a neurological syndrome manifesting in deficits in motoric (e.g., balance, coordination), visual-spatial-organizational (visual recall, spatial perception, organization) and social skills (social judgments and interactions). These limitations are typically seen alongside much more highly developed (often exceptional) verbal skills. Adults with NLD (like those with ADHD) will recall educational histories replete with accusations of laziness or lack of self-discipline and admonitions to live up to their potential.

The frustration of struggling to understand and overcome performance problems, and dealing with the misjudgments of teachers and parents has predictable consequences on self-esteem and mood. The same child who excels early in life in vocabulary and verbal expression, as well as rote memory skills and sometimes reading ability, runs into overwhelming social (and later vocational) challenges as a result of neurologically-based impediments.

Because NLD derives from an individual's "hard-wiring," it must be accepted as something that will not go away. The resulting sense of loss (of certain expectations and aspirations) must, like any significant loss, be grieved in order to move on and make the best of the situation. The good news is that there are a variety of compensations, accommodations, modifications and strategies (CAMS) that can be employed by adults with NLD.

Specialists advise strategies such as:

•  Investing in and learning every aspect of a good electronic personal organizer (like a "Palm");

•  Obtaining the services of a full or part time secretary able to help organize work, time, schedule, follow-up, etc.;

•  Participating in a support group to reduce the sense of isolation, offer mutual support and share compensatory strategies; and

•  Using meditation to relieve tension and stress.

In 2003, at the request of several lawyers with NLD, LCL provided a time-limited support group. If you are interested in such a group, please contact us at (617) 482-9600.