Autism and NLD
I have the unique perspective of being the parent of 2 girls
- one diagnosed with NLD and the other diagnosed with autism/PDD. Judy asked me to write a
short article about their similarities and differences. Since both disorders are spectrum
disorders, this is a personalized account.
My older daughter, Katherine is 9 yrs. old. She had been
diagnosed with NLD since age 6. My younger daughter, Amanda, is 6 yrs. old. She has been
diagnosed with autism/PDD since age 3. 1996 was not a particularly good year for our
Let me also share that while Amanda meets diagnostic
criteria for autism, she is a very verbal, fairly high-functioning kid. In fact she is so
verbal that I believe many of her autistic symptoms are right-hemisphere mediated. Many
children with autism show stronger right-hemisphere skills and weaker left hemisphere
skills, such as language.
Some of their differences:
- Friendship: My NLD child wants very badly to have
friends. She tries really hard, is totally engaged with friends, but doesn't understand
when she is rude to someone else. My child with autism wants to have a friend over to
play, but will totally ignore them once they are here. What she is doing is more
important than who she is with.
- Play: My child with NLD is demanding and wants attention
most of her waking hours. My child with autism is content to play by herself with toys and
books. In fact, she would prefer it.
- Tactile Defensiveness: If you accidentally bump into my
child with NLD, she will clobber you back. She doesn't understand that it was an accident.
My child with autism has more normal sensitivity to touch.
- Disposition: My child with autism wakes up every morning
with a cheerful disposition. The first thing on her agenda is kisses for Mom - one for
every day of the month (5 kisses if it's the 5th, etc)- cute, but
perseverative. She is a happy and content child. She is not one to hide her feelings. My
child with NLD is usually pretty owly. At least half of the comments she makes are
negative. She smiles less often. I think she internalizes a lot of her feelings.
Some of their similarities, often differing only by degree:
- Language: Both of my children are very verbal. The difference
is that my child with NLD uses language to learn about her world. She is constantly asking
questions about her environment, about a new word she hears, etc. My child with autism
uses language to drive me even crazier
non-stop who, what, and why questions are her
favorite language forms!
- Transitions: They both hate transitions or anything new and
different. My child with NLD will complain loudly, whine, and resist. My child with autism
is likely to cry or throw a tantrum.
- Visual Motor/Spatial: Both of my children have major
visual-motor and visual-spatial deficits. In fact, I would consider my child with autism
severely impaired and my child with NLD mildly impaired in these areas. (another reason I
believe my child with autism has right hemisphere dysfunction.)
- Frustration tolerance: My child with NLD has extremely low
tolerance for frustrating situations. She lacks problem-solving ability. If something is
too difficult, she shuts down. My child with autism also has a low frustration tolerance,
but can be coached through possible solutions. She doesn't shut down completely.
- Vulnerability: Both girls are extremely vulnerable. I often
worry that they are easy targets for bullies or even worse.
Probably the way in which they are both the most similar is
in their extreme need for explanations of the way the world works. They both need to be
given explanations, over and over again, for every interaction requiring any social acumen
- what didn't work in a given circumstance, and what might work better next time. Nothing
is intuitively obvious.