In this article I introduced the idea of nonverbal learning disabilities, or any disability, as a mountain between where you are and where you want to go. In this article I discussed socialization skills. In the present article, I will discuss how the mountain analogy can be used to help with these skills.
I didn’t want to go to the other side of the mountain: Giving up on social skills because of nonverbal learning disabilities
In social problems, the giving-up strategy results in withdrawal,and in attempts to make believe that we do not want friendship. This is a pretense. People do vary in the degree to which they want friends, in how many friends they want to have, and in how much time they want to spend alone vs. with other people. NLDers may be on the low side in all of these; but there are very, very few people who literally want no one else in their lives, and none of the NLDers I have met are among these few.
An extreme form of giving up on social problems is deliberately being offensive, so as not to risk being rejected. Here, the rather silly saying that `You haven’t failed unless you’ve tried’, is stood neatly on its head and becomes `If you haven’t tried, you haven’t really failed’. I used this strategy a lot in junior high school and the last years of elementary school – I would do things I knew other kids would find offensive, so that, when they didn’t want to be friends with me, I could blame the offensive behavior and deflect attention from the thought that it might be me they didn’t like. I don’t think this was a consciously worked-out strategy at the time, but whether it was conscious or not, it is not a particularly good strategy. It does not get you closer to your goal of having friends; although, to continue the mountain metaphor, while it doesn’t get you to the other side of the mountain (friendship) it does at least let you (think you’ve) avoided getting buried in a landslide (outright rejection).
A slightly less extreme form of this strategy is to pursue solitary interests. One such interest is reading, and many NLDers lose themselves in this activity for hours at a time. There is, of course, nothing wrong with reading, in and of itself. But if you want to make friends, spending time lying in bed reading is not going to work.
Going through the mountain of social skills when you have nonverbal learning disabilities
There are some exercises that can be used to help with various aspects of socialization. For paralanguage skills, it can be very useful to give examples of different tones of voice, volumes, nonverbal sounds, rates of speech and emphasis. (In the following, I give roles to `teacher’ and `student’, these could be actual students and teachers, or they could be parent and child, or they could be NLD adult and a friend or relative. It is possible to make a lot of this into a game.). Have teacher say the same sentence in a lot of different ways, and ask student to interpret. Then have student try to use these tools to communicate different things. Teacher and student can watch TV shows together, and try to identify different patterns (this is especially useful if you tape the show so it can be seen multiple times). For a greater challenge, try watching a show that’s in a language you don’t speak. Another tool is to tape record student and then have teacher and student go over it together. Similarly, have teacher make nonverbal sounds with various meanings, while student tries to identify them. Then have student try to make the sounds. Yet another idea is to get videotapes of famous speeches, and see how the speaker uses all the nonverbal tools to increase the power of his or her speech.
For more exercises, see most any good book on NLD, e.g. the ones by Duke and Nowicki and their colleagues, or the one by Lavoie, or others.
Going over the mountain of social skills when you have nonverbal learning disabilities
The idea of going over the mountain is to take longer to do what neurotypicals do. I have not found this very useful for social skills. The problem is that social interactions happen in real time. You can’t say to someone ‘just hold that expression a minute while I process what that combination of facial expression, body position, and tone means’.
Going around the mountain of social skills when you have NLD
Going around the mountain refers to finding alternate solutions. For social skills, the internet provides an enormous number of ways of getting around the mountain. Many, maybe most, of the difficulties we have with socialization disappear when we interact through type, rather than face-to-face. First of all, when communication is through type, there is no nonverbal communication: No faces, no gestures, no body language. You can’t tell what clothes the person is wearing. The issue of body space disappears.
There are a number of ways to interact through the internet, some of them are:
1. Mailing lists
A mailing list is a way for people with some interest in common to communicate. Rather than send e-mail to one person, you send it to an entire group, and then the people in the group can read it and respond to it with their own e-mails, if they are interested. There are mailing lists about NLD, the most general of which is NLD-in-common (you can find out more about NLD in Common by a simple google search), but there are groups about almost every subject. One place to look for such groups is on the Yahoo groups site. Another good site is Google groups
Just to give you some idea of what sorts of things people have e-mail lists about, I am on three devoted to statistics (I am a statistician – remember! NLD folk are bad at math – and we have no sense of humor), and another four devoted to particular software. There are lists about almost anything. These lists vary considerably, in several ways:
1. Moderated vs. unmoderated
2. Open vs. closed
3. Amount of mail
4. Degree of `off-topic’ chat that is permitted
5. Replying etiquette
A moderated list has a moderator. This person runs the list, and screens all messages. The advantage of this is that you are saved the bother of getting (and deleting) spam and unwanted, totally off-topic mail. The disadvantage is that there can be delays in getting mail posted, which can make it harder to have a discussion, as these delays can mount.
An open list is open to anyone who wants to join; in a closed list, the list owner has to approve you, and the list may be open to only certain types of people. The advantages and disadvantages of open and closed lists depend on the subject matter. Do you want to discuss things in a small group of people who have a lot in common, or in a large group that has broader interests and skills? There isn’t a right or wrong answer.
The amount of mail also varies. Some lists generate hundreds of messages a day; others generate only a few per month. Mailing lists also differ in how much `off-topic’ chat they tolerate. Again, this is a matter of taste and the amount of time you have available. Finally, mailing lists vary in whether the norm is to reply to just the person who sent the message, or to the whole list. The former keeps your in-box much emptier, and saves you the (slight) hassle of deleting mail you don’t want. The latter allows for much more general discussion. Again, which is `better’ is largely a matter of taste.
Whatever kind of list you join, it is a good idea to read the messages for a few days, and possibly to browse the archives, if they are available, before jumping in. This can save a lot of embarrassment.
By now, almost everyone has heard of blogs. They also vary hugely, and I am not expert enough to delineate the differences. But many of the differences are similar to those for mailing lists – Blogs vary in size, openness, busyness and so on. And blogs exist for all sorts of interests, as well. The article you are reading right now is a blog post.
There are, by this point, millions and millions of web sites. Some of these are places to discuss things, but others may be very valuable in terms of finding other resources. In addition, personal web sites can tell you something about a person, or allow you to say something about yourself. My blog is on my website, which is called IAmLearningDisabled.com
Twitter lets you send short messages to people; then other people can find your messages, and follow you, and you can develop a following. You can also use Twitter to keep in touch with family and friends, if they are also on Twitter.
I use Twitter a lot; I have three accounts, one for general stuff (@PeterFlom), one for statistics (@PeterFlomStat), and one for LD related things (@PeterFlomLD).
From the internet to face to face when you have nonverbal learning disabilities
Of course, interacting through the internet cannot completely replace face-to-face interaction: A lot is missing. But if you meet people face-to-face only after getting to know them on-line or in other ways that don’t involve nonverbal communication, then they already know who you are, and may already have decided that they like you. They are then much more likely to cut you some slack if you don’t behave just as they expect; indeed, in some cases, it may be a good idea for you to alert them ahead of time as to your disability.
As you can probably tell, I am a big fan of the internet. There are probably some other good methods for getting around the mountain of NLD, but, for me, the internet has tons of advantages. As with everything I write on this subject, what I say reflects my experiences, and your mileage may vary.