Helping Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities to Flourish by Marilyn Martin

Does a label help or hinder?

Reviewed by Ana Robbins


Helping Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities to Flourish by Marilyn Martin (2007)
Helping Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities to Flourish by Marilyn Martin (2007)

Does a label help or hinder? Scientists may disagree on the answer to that question, but Marilyn Martin, the author of Helping Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities to Flourish puts the label and its definition forward purely to help interested readers. Contrary to what it may sound like, a non-verbal learning disability (NLD) does not refer to a child or adult who can’t speak or has trouble with language. Quite the opposite, really. NLD is characterized by a person being very well-spoken from a young age, having a high level of reading comprehension, and excelling at school through their tween years. Where these minds differ is in their ability to remember spatial patterns, such as being able to retrace one’s own steps, or finding their way through an unfamiliar place, and being unable to look past details to see a larger picture. Think of it this way: instead of instructing their child to “put on shoes,” a parent would need to tell the child to “grab the shoe by its heel, toe pointing away from you and the hole for your foot facing up. Pull up on the movable strip of fabric to widen the hole, and slip your foot in, toes pointed.” How do I know this? Because, as I discovered during the course of researching this review, I have NLD.

This book’s author, Marilyn Martin–the author of last year’s featured nonfiction, “Chameleons“–does not have this learning style; her daughter does. Martin has been a learning specialist since 1991, with emphasis on children with unseen learning disabilities. Throughout the book, she details her time helping and watching her daughter Sara’s learning experiences. She first noticed Sara’s “lost” feelings when she was just a baby and could not navigate their small house or recognize rooms that she had seen many times. The personal stories the author relates are beautifully written, heartfelt, and useful for understanding her experience as a mother, her daughter’s personality, and their life together. Often, the more personal and less vague one is in relating an experience, the more real it seems and the more people can relate to it. This book baby steps a parent through the process of hopefully maximizing their child’s potential and understanding their specific, unusual challenges. Why would a book like this be needed? Because these are invisible traits, most often. Seeing that your child is clumsy and extremely well-spoken might be a sign that you will soon need to learn how to describe how each tendon in their hand moves before they will reach out and turn a doorknob.

One issue I could see readers having with this book is how many times the author refers to her daughter’s traits as hindering or somehow limiting to her. Life is all about knowing your limits, changing what is realistic, and working with/around everything else. The psychology world has not yet classified NLD as an official learning disability, and there is debate around whether or not it fits the requirements. However, books and research papers on the subject are cropping up more and more, getting the concept out to parents and teachers. The big focus of this book is working with teachers and schools to make sure your child isn’t “left behind.” While I would never call myself disabled, as Martin describes her daughter, the similarities between Sara and I are striking. However, contrary to the idea of this being a “disability,” through all of the good and the bad, I wouldn’t trade my brain for anything. So, I cannot give readers an answer as to whether or not labeling your child or even yourself is a good or a bad thing; heck, even scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and neurologists have no clue as of yet.

Nevertheless, if you or someone you know–especially your child–sounds similar to any of the traits described here, check out this book. It’s a great read, and a flowing, informative way to become acquainted with exactly what a nonverbal learning disability is. Perhaps labeling has less to do with what you’re called on the street and everything to do with how you react to it.

Anna RobbinsJenny “Ana” Robbins, assistant nonfiction editor, is a 27-year-old creative writing major at LSSU. She grew up in a small town in Arkansas, going on to study electrical engineering at the University of Arkansas for two years right after high school. Three years ago, she moved to Sault Ste. Marie and promptly restarted her education, settling down with her partner Frank and two felines. Ana is an avid writer, sculptor, and gamer, and hopes to be a reviewer or essayist once she finishes her education.