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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Mom Launches Nonprofit To Serve Daughter And Others With Poorly Understood Condition

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Dr. Laura Lemle’s daughter was diagnosed with NVLD when she was five years old. Dr. Lemle had earned a PhD in clinical psychology decades ago, before getting into the real estate business. Now, applying her entrepreneurial skills to a social problem close to home, she’s launched a nonprofit, The NVLD Project, to help kids with NVLD.

Dr. Lemle, motivated by a desire to change the world for her daugther’s benefit, is moving quickly to build a top-flight advisory board and begin its work of helping those with NVLD and other social and spatial disabilities to lead more complete lives.

Up to this point, Dr. Lemle has provided most of the funding for the nonprofit, but the team is still small with just two other people on staff with her. Growing the organization’s impact will require growing its revenue.

Who hasn’t misread a social situation and felt embarrassed as a result? While that is the fertile soil that comedy writers use for sitcoms, imagine being unable to read social situations correctly.

This is the problem that Dr. Lemle is seeking to address. ”We are trying to help children and young adults who have NVLD. Having any disability is challenging, particularly when that disability, like NVLD, is not officially recognized, is poorly understood, and presents significant social barriers.”

Dr. Laura Lemle, courtesy of The NVLD Project

Dr. Laura Lemle, courtesy of The NVLD Project

She adds, “Too often individuals with NVLD are stigmatized and ostracized, largely because they misread social cues. Being accepted socially and feeling supported by a community remain among the biggest obstacles – a challenge we are addressing.”

Dr. Abigail Diamond, an NVLD expert who sits on the organization’s advisory board, adds, “Often schools don’t realize how prevalent this disability is and don’t understand the impact that this diagnosis can have on students both academically on socially.”

The NVLD Project is dedicated to raising awareness, building support and creating helpful solutions for children, adolescents, and adults with Non-Verbal Learning Disability,” Dr. Lemle says. The organization has a variety of programs, including workshops, research and advocacy all aimed at the these goals.

Dr. Lemle has faced some unusual challenges in building her nonprofit. ”The biggest challenge is that NVLD is not a valid diagnosis and that people don’t understand what it is. Additionally, the name of the diagnosis often confuses people and is misleading because it addresses the disability, not the ability,” she says.

In addition, customary challenges, including a lack of awareness of the problem and the difficulties of raising money have challenged her.

Dr. Diamond says Dr. Lemle is already making progress despite the challenges. “The organization has already developed relationships with several schools where they are working to provide professional development and ongoing education to faculty and administration on how to best understand and support students with NVLD.”

The benefits to the schools who receive the training go beyond helping the students with NVLD. “Beyond that, the work that the NVLD Project has been doing with schools benefits all students, with and without an NVLD diagnosis as it encourages teachers to be attuned to subtle cues in students’ social well-being,” Dr. Diamond says.

Dr. Lemle has a big vision for her new social venture.The NVLD Project envisions a world where those with social and spatial disabilities, particularly NVLD, can proudly address their differences and learn to live fuller and more satisfying lives,” she says.

Ultimately, the success of a nonprofit as an enterprise is tied to its ability to make measurable progress toward its goals. ”Considering that this is a relatively new organization, I think Laura’s work is quite impressive,” Dr. Diamond says.

On Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 5:00 Eastern, Dr. Lemle will join me for a live discussion about how she is overcoming the entrepreneurial challenges she faces in helping her daughter and those like her. We will be joined by Dr. Moira Rynn, MD, of Columbia University’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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