"Because [people with NLD] lack the ability to take an overarching view of tasks, they experience the world around them as a chaos..." --Wikipedia
Since this is my contribution to the Spectral Amoebas blog carnival, is it okay if it's a little...long? Grab some fried dough and pull up a chair, because an epic post was promised. We're coming out...yet again.
I don't know how much is common knowledge about the autistic experience, but it's true that people on the spectrum have to come out, if they want to be known as autistic. You can't tell that someone is autistic by looking at them. Even if someone seems "off", or doesn't pass as NT (neurotypical, not autistic), it's hard to know they're autistic unless you hear it from them, or you're a professional who's qualified to make diagnoses. I've thought a lot about this coming out process, which is sometimes called "disclosure", but I don't see it discussed enough. Maybe the concept is minimized because of this idea: if you can pass as NT, then you should. Or maybe people who can pass are not "autistic enough" to warrant discussion. I reject both of these assumptions.
I want to be out as a person with NLD (I call us "verbies", although I totally made that up myself), because I want to spread understanding about us, and I feel that life is too short to not be open about important things. But I find it much harder to come out with NLD than to come out as asexual. Maybe it's because while everyone has a sexual orientation, most people don't have learning "differences". And while everyone can think of some people they're not attracted to, how do you explain the way in which your brain processes information? While a lot of people in my life might know I have "a learning disability", I don't think many of them know how it really impacts me. Part of this is due to the fact that NLD is much harder for me to explain than asexuality. My best analogy is that having NLD is like constantly being in another culture that you don't completely understand. With age, you may learn to move more easily within this culture, but it will never be intuitive to you. And, there is no physical place where your own culture exists.
Asexuality means that I'm not sexually attracted to anyone. But is NLD a sub-set of Asperger's? Is it "mild Asperger's", whatever that is? (And these designations are only useful if you're familiar with Asperger's beyond the stereotypes.) Is it a learning disability or a developmental disability? Is it a processing disorder, is it just a different way of interpreting the world? Is it all or some of the above? There is no fictional character with NLD, which is both a bad and a good thing. No one has a friend with NLD to compare me to (I am that friend), although in terms of coming out, that's probably also a good thing.
In addition, the autistic spectrum isn't something that tends to naturally come up in a conversation. In the 9 years since my diagnosis, I can count two or three times. One time, a few close friends were talking about a guy who often behaved inappropriately, and one of the friends said that "he probably has Asperger's". My ears pricked up at this: Mention of autistic spectrum disorder! I should come out now, it might be my only chance for years! But no...no, I shouldn't. I want to describe myself on my own terms.
If I simply state that I'm on the autistic spectrum, most people won't know how to interpret that, especially if their idea of autism is limited to a nonverbal person rocking in a corner. Me, I can pass as an eccentric NT. At least...I think I can. But I don't want to feel like I owe that to the world, any more than I want to feel obligated to pass as an overly picky heterosexual. Maybe I'm just making my life more difficult than it needs to be...but if we don't come out, it will never be any easier to be a verbie in this culture.
Coming out with NLD is also much scarier. It's so scary that I prefer to do it here, in my relative comfort zone of the written word. Although I've written about NLD multiple times on this blog before, it freaks me out anew every time I write about it. Is it just harder to give up NT privilege than heterosexual privilege? An asexual person will still be seen as "normal" by some, if they fit into social norms in other ways. But an autistic person? Not so much. Part of me worries that if people "really knew" how much trouble NLD causes me, they wouldn't know how to act towards me. I worry that if people knew how differently I really think, it would alienate them.
But maybe that's just a baseless anxiety, since I feel like sensible people would more likely be intrigued. People that care will continue to treat me as they always have; it's probably delusional to think that no one has noticed my "differences". Is naming them really such a big change? Yet another reason why NLD is hard to explain are the many conditions that commonly accompany and complicate it, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, or bipolar disorder (which also carry significant social stigma and can be very difficult to come out with). The nature of intersectionality is to go on and on. I'm strangely anxious about posting this, even though I'm not sure what negative responses, realistically, I could receive.
In the end, I sometimes feel like I have a certain amount of "coming out cards". With asexuality, I used them all up, even though I was far from done. But coming out isn't just that one-time "let's sit down" chat. For some of us, it may be a continuous and long process, where we divulge more detailed information over time. I am told that for many on the spectrum, our thinking can tend towards "black and white". I can see myself in that description, although the rigidity of my thinking tends to depend on the matter at hand. I used to think that if I could just find a perfect way to explain things to people, then they would understand. But I'm learning that no matter how skilled you are in the art of coming out, understanding is what happens in all the days, months, and years after you've come out. Coming out is only the beginning.