Monday, November 27th, 2000
© 2000 Robert Cherry
My name is Robert. I’m 51, live in the Canadian province of Quebec, and was diagnosed as having a nonverbal learning disability when I was 42.
As a child and adolescent I was a loner because I didn’t have the strength, coordination and social skills to make many friends. I was picked on by other boys in primary school and at the beginning of high school. In high school I found a place for some of my skills in the Army Cadet Corps – I taught Morse code, was a member of the rifle team, and became an officer. It was an ordinary high school, not a military school.
I managed academically in high school, college, and graduate school as long as I was able to avoid math and physics. I could not totally avoid math in high school and I got my high school diploma despite failures in algebra and geometry. In college I failed statistics the first time I took it although I passed it the second time.
I hit my first real brick wall when I tried to work after finishing a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling. I had no way of knowing that a helping profession is much more difficult for someone with NVLD because of the difficulty we have with affective communication (reading other people’s social cues correctly and communicating the right cues ourselves). For about 20 years I went from one job failure to another. The little self-esteem that I had was destroyed because of the humiliation of repeated failures. My marriage ended because, among other things, my ex wife could no longer live with a man who was so depressed and frustrated.
I had the good fortune to know and work for a man who was very perceptive. He saw my learning disability and found me a neuropsychologist who tested and diagnosed me. The many psychotherapists I had consulted before took my money but did not make the correct diagnosis although I had no way of knowing that the diagnosis was correct. A few years later I found an article in the Journal of Learning Disabilities by Rourke, Young and Leenaars entitled “A Childhood Learning Disability that Predisposes Those Afflicted to Adolescent and Adult Depression and Suicide Risk”. After reading it I knew that the last neuropsychologist was correct and I had a non-verbal learning disability.
It took me a while to accept the label and the reality that I could not work as a guidance counselor. I had to identify skills that would allow me to earn a living in a very competitive job market. A 51 year old person with a negative work history has little chance of finding a job unless someone opens a door for him. Because of long-term unemployment most of my life’s savings are gone. I can’t count on my family for help – they either don’t understand or don’t care. The two government-funded job placement agencies for disabled people in my area have not yet been helpful. One friend who has business contacts (he is a lawyer) is trying to find an employer who might need what I can do and give me a chance to prove it. I can write, edit, proof-read, translate from French to English and do research in a library.
To scrape by (so far), I have been a member of a translation cooperative (we are paid by the word) for almost two and a half years. I do translation and proof-reading for the coop. The work is only occasional and, for this reason, I can’t earn enough money to live without constant worry.