Could Clutter Be A Sign Of A Learning Disability?

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Clutter can wreak havoc in our homes. It looks messy and leads to frustration from disorganization. However, for some people, clutter may be indicative of a learning disability.

That was the case for Jennifer Byrne, who struggled with serious clutter issues all her life. As she writes in Good Housekeeping, Byrne just thought she simply was disorganized until a particularly stressful incident. A cleaning service refused to work on Byrne’s house because the clutter was so bad that they couldn’t work around it. With her in-laws scheduled to visit in just a few hours, Byrne was left looking at the piles of stuff and had a breakdown. That is when she realized that her unmanageable clutter was part of a bigger issue.

messy house photo
Flickr | PuyoDead

The only problem? I also knew clutter was only one aspect of what never seemed normal in my life. I got lost constantly, still had issues telling right from left and got into more than my fair share of car accidents. Sure, I won the school spelling bee as a kid, but I was terrible at math and geography and still break into a cold sweat when someone asks me to read the time from an analog clock.

Byrne came to realize that she has a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD), a neurological problem that leads to difficulties with visual, spatial, motor and social skills. People with NVLD tend to have trouble with math and handwriting, but often have strong verbal skills.

“This condition means that taking chaos and sorting it into an organized, functional system feels not only difficult, but often impossible,” Byrne writes.

NVLD is not classified as an official diagnosis by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. However, it shares symptoms with conditions such as right hemisphere brain damage, social-emotional processing disorder, Asperger syndrome and others.

Children and adults with NVLD usually show the following symptoms:

  • Have difficulty recognizing and understanding body language or facial expressions
  • Have poor coordination; they are usually known as clumsy
  • Have a hard time with changes in routine
  • Have a hard time with following multi-step directions
  • Asks too many questions

confused photo
Flickr | Jr'p

These learning disabilities don’t usually affect a person’s reading or writing ability. Therefore, they can be hard to diagnose. Because of this, some people do not get the help they need until they are older. By then, though, other issues can cause problems in day-t0-day life.

Because their brains can’t process information properly, people with NVLD get disorganized easily. This could mean getting turned around somewhere and getting lost. More frequently, it means people with NVLD simply put things down around their house, unsure of where to put them. This can lead to clutter and disorganization, as Byrne experienced.

clutter photo
Getty Images | Alex Wong

If you or someone you know has symptoms of NVLD, get medical help for an official diagnosis. Various types of therapy can help children and adults who struggle with this condition.

Lifestyle changes also can make day-to-day living more manageable. It can help people with NVLD to know changes in routine are coming. This helps them cope with transitions much easier. Also, breaking down large tasks into smaller ones can reduce stress. This makes potentially overwhelming situations easier to manage. Using a timer to mark breaks provides the boundaries needed to make smoother transitions. It also helps boost a sense of accomplishment.