The Question I Hate Most as a Person With Nonverbal Learning Disability

We live in a society that believes in personal responsibility. Many people feel that amount of effort and result are always completely and directly correlated. If something you do doesn’t meet an accepted standard of “good enough,” then you have “failed” and it’s all your fault.

In most cases, I agree. It’s the philosophy I was raised with, and I can see that it’s generally true. However, when it comes to disabilities, this idea can fall short.

I have nonverbal learning disability. It’s a condition similar to autism.  It includes some autism symptoms, and also comes with executive function and visual spatial difficulties, learning disabilities, and motor skill and balance problems.

Nonverbal learning disability means the effort I put into things is almost never reflected in my result. Whether it’s a grade, a test score, or a task, my best efforts always seem to equal “failure.”  Considering that I grew up undiagnosed, being blamed for my constant “failures” means my self-esteem has taken a major beating. I’ve lost count of the number of times that a frustrated authority figure has asked me “Well, how hard did you really try?” I have serious problems with this “question.” Not only is the phrasing incredibly rude, but it’s not really a question, and there is no right answer.

My amount of effort, like my disability, is invisible, but that doesn’t mean either is nonexistent. If anything, I try harder than everyone else because I have to work that hard just to get by. I’m doing the best I can, but it feels like I can’t make anyone believe that.

Often people aren’t asking how hard I tried, just stating outright that I didn’t. They accuse me of choosing to fail, and saying if I had only tried harder, I would’ve done better. As much as I wish this were the case, it’s not always. Since this is a statement rather than a question, there isn’t a right answer. If I lie about how long or hard I actually worked, then I failed because it obviously wasn’t enough. If I tell the truth, they say the work should never take that much time or effort, so I’m obviously exaggerating. Even though there is no right answer, I’ve come up with a few:

Sarcastic answer: Harder than I’m trying not to slap you for asking.
Real answer: Harder than you’ll ever understand.
Truth: It doesn’t matter, because it will never be enough.

I believe the answer people want is for me to agree that they’re right. I’m supposed to admit that I
didn’t really try, take full responsibility for my failure, and never let it happen again.  Unfortunately, the answer they want isn’t one I can give. I did the best I could, I did try, and I refuse to agree that I didn’t.

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