Chris Rock And NLD: Why His Diagnosis Matters

As most people have already heard, comedian Chris Rock shared that he was diagnosed with NVLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disorder) in September. All of the entertainment outlets – along with the TV show Rock was promoting, of course – shared the news with the world and found themselves having to teach the public what NLD actually is! It’s helpful when someone famous shares personal information with the public as it often has the effect of educating others. We’re thrilled that this often overlooked and misunderstood diagnosis is getting a bit more attention.

Camp Akeela specializes in young people who have Asperger’s and NLD (aka NVLD). When people see the term “Non Verbal Learning Disorder” on our website, they sometimes ask if that means that our campers are “nonverbal”, meaning unable to speak. In this regard, the name of the diagnosis could not be more misleading! In truth, and Chris Rock is now a very shining example of this, those with a diagnosis of NVLD (or NLD) are highly verbal. Our campers are incredibly bright and quite adept at oral communication.

Rock received his diagnosis after a friend wondered if Rock had Asperger’s; the two diagnoses overlap a great deal. Like individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger’s, those with NLD often find it challenging to initiate and/or maintain relationships with others. They may see the world in a more black and white or rigid way and many are not diagnosed earlier on in their childhoods because they are doing so well in their academic setting. All of this applies equally to many people who identify with the Asperger’s label, or a similar ASD or neurodiverse profile.

At Akeela, we frequently talk about labels being unimportant in almost all settings. To a great extent, labels are most useful in that they help kids and teens receive the services they need and deserve. Schools and insurance companies often look for the official diagnoses before approving those services. However, we’ve come to learn that there is another way in which labels and diagnoses can be important: Many of our campers tell us that having a professional tell them why they might be struggling socially can be life-changing and affirming. It gives them a language with which to better understand themselves and a community to which they belong.

I can only imagine how Mr. Rock felt when he got the diagnosis. In interviews, he alludes to a new sense of understanding and an ability to push himself in new ways, in an effort to learn and grow. As an example, he recently started to learn how to swim and he views diving into the deep end, even though it filled him with fear, as a great metaphor for his life today. If more people are aware of what it means to be living with the cluster of traits that make up NLD or Aspergers or autism spectrum disorders, then maybe they will have access to more support and will feel that they can dive into the deep end when they’re ready.

Speaking of perfect metaphors, there is no better first step off that diving board than going to sleepaway camp!

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