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.


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



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.

A Frustrating Process: The College Graduate’s Job Search

I graduated four years ago from a well-known local university and have yet to obtain a full-time position utilizing my degree. I have 1.5 years of office experience from working as the assistant to the president of a nonprofit organization but this experience has not helped me to acquire another position doing similar work. It is truly one of the most frustrating and difficult ordeals to go through and I hate that so many jobs that seem perfect require more experience than I have.
I know that I am not the only college graduate I know who struggles with finding a job. I am fortunate enough to have a retail job that I love and will have worked there eight years this coming July. I am just so sick of living paycheck to paycheck and wish that things could change for me. I keep searching regularly but so far nothing has really come out of this job search process.
What makes my job search process unique is the fact that I have a disability which impacts my ability to go places independently. I am unable to drive because of the physical aspects of my disability so distance plays a factor in the job search. I not only have to consider the required experience of a particular job but also the distance from home.
I know that I can always do freelance work but I truly desire an office position where I can meet new people and develop strong and lasting professional relationships. The right job must be out there for me and I pray that a good opportunity arises for me in the near future. I apologize for the rant but this is something that has become a real source of anxiety for me and has led me to question whether I will ever get a full-time job.
What I have decided to do though to improve my chances of getting a full-time position is to start taking courses related to what I learned in college to brush up on my skills and knowledge of communications media. I believe that this will enable me to remain up to date on the rapidly evolving world of media and since I have always loved learning I think this will be perfect for me. I am starting this return to starting courses by working on a specialization in social media marketing taught by professors from Northwestern University. Since social media is one of the most prominent types of media out there right now I feel that this will really help me to learn more about this popular media outlet.
I hope that in writing about my frustrations in finding a full-time job others can relate to me and possibly share their own experiences about the job-hunt process. You can definitely become a more well-rounded person by taking classes related to what you wish to do in the future and remain grounded in the world that you were immersed in during your college years. Please don’t consider giving up your job search because eventually the right opportunity will arise for you.

Striving for Normalcy

I was born with physical and learning disabilities and struggled in some respects both socially and academically. I had a very hard time making friends in school and thought that there must be a reason why my classmates were able to form new friendships with one another so easily while it was so difficult for me. While I had a good stable family life at home, not having friends was something that really hurt me emotionally. Even today I still don’t have any friends and I can honestly admit that it still bothers and frustrates me to this day.
Everyone always liked to teach normal behavior and social skills and it just seemed like no matter how much effort I put into it I could never be considered “normal.” People could just tell that something was off with me and as I progressed into my teen years my idiosyncrasies were even more evident. I was talking to myself and starting to develop some tic-like behaviors.
Things came to a head when I started college at my local community college. I began to develop friendships with two classmates and another student and it was just overwhelming trying to grasp the social nuances that they understood so easily. I didn’t realize what topics were not generally acceptable to be discussed and that I was actually so desperate for friendship that I would attach myself to people who were really “toxic” friends.
Ever since then I have been friendly with others around my age but with my fear of rejection I have been more withdrawn and reserved with others. I do try to fit in but still find it to be very anxiety inducing to remain engaged socially with others. I have strived for normalcy in many ways but have come to realize that there is no such thing as “normal”.
Everyone has their quirks that make them unique individuals and I am one of those quirky persons. I do things that may not seem interesting to other people like take online classes on topics that are not always the most mainstream and wear clothes that may at times may not reflect the current styles and trends.
You may be left wondering at this point how my disabilities affect my quest for normalcy in other respects. Some ways that my disabilities impact my life include the fact that I am incapable of driving; have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues; have trouble seeing the “big picture”; and have poor spatial sense. While a few of these issues have been remediated over the years, the fact that I cannot drive and my ability to understand nonverbal cues hinders my ability to obtain desired jobs in my field and succeed in job interviews.
Do I wish that I didn’t live with disabilities? In many ways I admit that it would be great to have more independence but my disabilities have also helped to make me into a personally stronger person. I have overcome challenges that others may not have had to cope with and have found that I am capable of doing more things than I ever expected.
Now I spend my time helping other individuals with the same learning disability I have—a nonverbal learning disability—by interacting with them in Facebook groups and acting as sole administrator of a Facebook page that provides resources and support to individuals with this learning disability. I have come to realize that I can truly make an impact in the world by changing the perception of individuals with disabilities. I am a living example of a disabled person who has had their share of success stories to relate to the world.
My wish is that people with disabilities can be treated as an important segment of the population. While some disabilities are more obviously noticed than others, it should not impact the way that we treat more severely disabled individuals. I am a firm believer in disability equality as I feel that people like me should not be discriminated against when pursuing job opportunities and other opportunities in life. I think that we must come to the realization that everyone has a story to tell and the potential to do great things in life. Will everything you wish to attain come to you easily? I don’t believe so as it takes effort, perseverance, and determination to accomplish what you want in life.
Just remember that if you are disabled, it does not make you less of a person. In reality it makes you into someone who people can look up to and admire due to your resilience and personality. You may not always feel comfortable disclosing your disability to others, and that’s perfectly acceptable, but just acknowledge the fact that having a disability is something that makes you unique. Sometimes you need to let potential employers know that you have disabilities so that they can provide accommodations that will enable you to succeed in your job.
One important thing to note though is to never use your disability as an excuse for getting out of doing difficult things. I definitely have used the disability card before, but have come to realize that if I simply try doing something that has proven to be a challenge I may be able to actually do it. You may surprise yourself at how much you are capable of doing and then will see that you’re very competent at doing what you set out to do.
Striving for normalcy may appear to be a worthwhile endeavor but to reiterate my earlier point, being normal is a myth. No one is really normal as everyone has something that makes them unique. If someone tells you to try being normal, remind them that they aren’t normal themselves. It may offend them but it’s a fact of life. I feel that being perfect is not the best goal in life and embracing your imperfections is something that will make you into a better and more confident person.