During these stressful and uncertain times, practicing social distancing and good hygiene is essential! There is no question that individuals with learning differences must also adhere to these standards. However, it is important to recognize that doing so may not be as easy for those who already struggle to recognize personal space and remain organized enough to plan ahead for shopping and other responsibilities. This is especially true for individuals with visual-spatial and executive functioning weaknesses, such as Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). In fact, according to CRC Health, “people with NVLD do not understand the concept of personal space, and often make others uncomfortable by crowding in.” (CRC Health, 2000-20015) Of course, there is some variation within this population regarding how these characteristics manifest in daily life. Nevertheless, many would benefit from taking special precautions during this time period. It is also important to be proactive in addressing anxiety, which is something that many individuals with learning differences already struggle with.
We are all told to avoid crowds, and preferably to shop from home. If we must go outside for essentials, such as groceries or medicine, we are supposed to keep six feet between ourselves and others. However, the reality of grocery shopping, pharmacies, and sometimes just walking down the street is that we all must be vigilant in maintaining this standard. If this is a challenge for somebody without visual spatial deficits, imagine how difficult it must be for someone with challenges in this area. However, you can plan ahead for these activities, such as having a friend accompany you who can serve as a physical or verbal guide in maintaining a safe distance between yourself and others. Even using a shopping cart to create a bubble of personal space can be helpful. Also, it is often advisable to shop during the least crowded time periods, and to develop a list beforehand of all that you will need for an extended time period, crossing them off as you go along. With the right preparation, you can make this time period a little bit easier.
It is important to note that even while taking precautions, this can be an anxiety provoking time for individuals with learning differences, who may also struggle with challenges adapting to changes and even new sensory experiences, such as long lines at the grocery store. Therefore, many individuals with learning differences, including college students, couples, and individuals of all ages, may benefit from psychotherapy during this time period. It can help to normalize the changes and stresses that are occurring, while challenging the cognitive distortions that are perpetuating anxiety. By working with a psychotherapist, you can improve your overall mental health. Although this is a challenging period for individuals with learning differences, with the right precautions and steps to adapt to these changing times, they can get through it!