Many Children May Deal With Nonverbal Learning Disability

Nonverbal learning disability (NLD), also known as a nonverbal learning disorder, is a learning disability marked by problems with social skills and concept formation. These individuals have good intelligence in the average range, but they are weak in verbal skills compared to other children. Symptoms include visual-spatial abilities, pattern recognition, visual memory, motor function coordination, and social judgment.

main of Many Children May Deal With Nonverbal Learning Disability

People with NLD often have average or above-average intelligence that masks more severe problems as their intellectual functioning appears within a normal range. Problems arise when they are required to cope with the demands of academic work or social settings. The symptoms vary from child to child depending on how their brain has adapted and/or learned to compensate for the areas where they are weak.

Most students with NLD have difficulties in math due to the heavy reliance on spatial organization in the subject matter. They also typically have very strong verbal skills out of necessity because it is easy for them to express themselves orally. Still, it can be difficult for them to understand language nuances or perceive nonverbal communication.

NLD Weakness Areas

Nonverbal Learning Disability is a neurologically based disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social skills, visual-spatial abilities, and nonverbal problem-solving. They struggle compared to their same-age peers on nonverbal reasoning and academic achievement tests involving math and written language.

The deficits can be quite severe; students with Nonverbal Learning Disability may lack basic knowledge about things like facial expressions or how to begin or maintain a conversation. They often need to be taught social skills explicitly and they may not spontaneously apply these skills in appropriate contexts.

NLD teens are less likely than their peers to fit in with the crowd. In addition, friendships can be a challenge for them because of difficulties understanding others' nonverbal behavior and responding appropriately, weaknesses in spatial/math reasoning, and poor coordination. This combination of deficits can make it difficult for them to participate successfully in sports or other recreational activities with their peers.

Noticing NLD in Children

Symptoms of NLD in children usually become apparent between the ages of 5 and 12. However, the disorder may go unnoticed for years if a child is bright or can compensate for deficits, especially if he or she attends a school that provides appropriate accommodations. It's often not until adolescence that difficulties become fully apparent when academic and social demands increase.

Children with NLD are not all alike - each person has a unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. However, there are certain characteristics most people with NLD share. 

Visual-Spatial Weaknesses

  • Trouble remembering sequences (e.g., days of the week, months)
  • Difficulty memorizing routes/maps
  • Delayed drawing ability or difficulty drawing complex figures
  • Problems making change from a given amount of money
  • Trouble copying 3-dimensional forms accurately

Nonverbal Social Deficits

  • Lack of sensitivity to facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures that accompany speech
  • Difficulty understanding body language

Verbal Weaknesses

  • Weak spelling ability, even in children with average or above-average intelligence

Some NLD teens have good auditory memories for words but cannot translate this skill to written form when they have to spell correctly on tests/homework.

Helping Children with NLD

It is important to understand that children with Nonverbal Learning Disability CAN learn - they just need to be taught in a different way than other kids. The first step may be finding an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) that ensures academic progress by providing special accommodations or adaptations for the child, such as:

  • Extended time on tests and homework assignments
  • Reduced homework load and testing schedule
  • Use of a computer or laptop for classroom work and tests
  • Differentiated instruction

It is also critical for NLD teens to participate in social skills groups that provide opportunities to develop/practice their interpersonal communication skills. In addition, these programs allow them to interact with peers who struggle with similar challenges and build rapport with supportive adult facilitators.

  • Positive approaches to social skills training (e.g., modeling, role-playing)
  • Improvement of peer relationships at school and in the community
  • Increased opportunities for success in dating and other interpersonal relationships as teens/adults