Welcome to a day in my life. I can't guarantee that this will be an exciting read for anyone. My life is filled with all the mundane activities of a stay-at-home-mom just trying to raise her three sons to be the best men they can be.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nonverbal Learning Disorder

This is going to be a long one! Grab a cup of coffee and settle in.

This is an article that I found on Learning Disabilities Resourse Community Before going forward, I feel I just need to add that NLD (Nonverbal Learning Disorder) is an all-encompassing disorder that can be very dibilitating, and is a life-long struggle.

From an article by Patti Brace in L.D.A. of Kingston Winter 1998 Newsletter

Nonverbal learning disabilities are less well known than language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Typically, people with nonverbal LD show:
- excellent memory for things they hear
- poor memory for things they see
- good reading ability
- very poor arithmetic ability
- excellent verbal expression and verbal reasoning
- problems with written expression (often because of poor handwriting)
- problems with sense of direction, estimation of size, shape, distance
- problems reading facial expressions, gestures, social cues, tones of voice

Nonverbal learning disabilities often go undiagnosed because reading ability tends to be regarded as the chief indicator of academic well-being by most public school systems. Because it has a pronounced effect on social interaction, as well as academic performance, nonverbal LD presents a unique challenge to parents, teachers and adult consumers.

The chief characteristics of nonverbal LD include:
- tactile-perceptual deficits, usually on the left side of the body;
- coordination difficulties, again often more marked on the left side of the body;
- problems with visual‑spatial organization;
- extreme difficulty adapting to new and complex situations;
- reliance on rote behaviours (which may or may not be appropriate) in new situations;
- trouble understanding nonverbal feedback in social situations;
- problems with social perception, social judgment and social interaction;
- distorted sense of time;
- very strong rote verbal abilities (e.g. large vocabulary);
- reliance on language as the primary means for social relating, information gathering and relief from anxiety;
- difficulties with arithmetic and, later, with scientific concepts and theories;
- inattention and hyperactivity earlier in childhood; and social withdrawal and isolation later.

When people with nonverbal LD are assessed, typically their performance IQ is significantly lower than their verbal IQ because of the visual-spatial weaknesses.
Young Children
Young nonverbal LD children tend to stray from home or groups and get lost easily. They often spill things at mealtime because of problems with motor coordination and have trouble dressing themselves for the same reason. Problems with spatial skills appear in weak understanding of nonverbal information (e.g. pictures, cartoons, passage of time) and nonverbal tasks like puzzles.

Many children with nonverbal LD use words in an adult fashion and learn to read before school age because of their auditory strengths. Thus, they often try to gain information about the world around them by asking endless questions of adults, rather than by exploring on their own. The inaccuracy of their visual perception, physical awkwardness and difficulty integrating information in space and time make it harder for them to make sense of the physical world. This compensation can compound the problem, however, for the less the child engages in physical exploration, the less s/he learns about relationships between objects in space.

Academic Issues
Students with nonverbal LD generally appear to possess above-average cognitive skills because of their verbal strengths, but often show academic difficulties as they reach secondary levels.

Spatial and coordination problems make printing and writing, learning math, telling time, reading and colouring maps and keeping their place on the page difficult from early grades. By high school, more complex verbal language is based on nonverbal processes like spatial relationships (in science, for example), logical ordering, and sequencing (both skills necessary for writing essays). This can cause problems in subject areas other than math. As well, students often experience difficulties with sense of time, arranging written material on a page, making change, and sewing and typing, all of which demand good spatial awareness.

Throughout the school years, kids with nonverbal LD are often inattentive and poorly organized because they have trouble integrating and interpreting incoming information. They tend to pay attention to each detail as it comes in, rather than combining them into more meaningful wholes. The effort quickly leads to information overload, with which these students will often cope by clinging to familiar habits and routines that help them to structure their world. Sometimes this adaptation appears as misbehaviour.

In later secondary and postsecondary education, information is frequently presented in lecture form. For students with nonverbal LD, problems arise because they have to integrate information they hear with the act of writing, already difficult because writing is often awkward and slow. As well, students who attend equally to individual details as they appear have enormous difficulty separating important from unimportant information.

Teachers can support students with nonverbal LD by outlining material to be covered, using overheads containing central points while lecturing, providing clear schedules of the day's events, breaking complex tasks down into smaller, sequenced pieces, using discussion rather than lectures to develop and integrate ideas, and using students' strengths in rote learning to help them develop habits and routines to organize themselves and their work.

Social and Emotional Issues
Possibly the biggest area of concern for children and adults with nonverbal LD is social skills. One result of having trouble processing nonverbal and spatial information is missing or misinterpreting subtle social cues, like facial expressions, gestures and tones of voice. For example, a phrase like "nice going" means something different when you've just dropped a ball or tripped over a skipping rope (again) than when you've gotten a perfect score on a spelling test. Confusing the two can spell "disaster" on the playground.

Unlike a student who has difficulty reading but does well with social and sports activities, students with nonverbal LD are affected in all areas. This can lead to social isolation, and kids will sometimes try to alleviate this by interacting only with adults, who are more appreciative of their verbal strengths and less concerned about physical awkwardness or violations of social conventions.

However, because children with nonverbal LD are highly verbal, parents and teachers tend to attribute their academic and social failure to laziness or poor character. This can lead to emotional problems like depression and anxiety that are expressed in internalizing ways (e.g. nail and cuticle biting, headaches, stomach problems, phobias).

Parents and teachers can help children with nonverbal LD learn more effective social skills by talking about social rules and playing games in which children guess the feelings that go with facial expressions and tones of voice (and figure out appropriate responses!). Friends and spouses of adults with nonverbal LD can help by pointing out social rules and articulating the information often carried by a look or a gesture.


  1. Hey Barb, What an excellent account of the struggles and facts of NVLD.
    Very educational for what you deal with as well as what Matthew experiences.

  2. Barb, I have been enjoying your blog for awhile, I live in Canada as well, New Brunswick but presently in Myrtle Beach SC for 2 months. This morning I opened your blog to a very interesting article which deals with my granddaughter and it was helpful to understand the problem these children deal with. Our Kate has learning disabilities and it scares us all of whats ahead. Kate also does not relate to others and very much a loner, escapeing to the computer which has to be monitored carefully. Kate is in grade 8 and it is scarey as she faces high school next year. Thank you again for the article. Pat

  3. thanks for visiting and your comments Pat. Matt, too, is very attached to the computer. In fact, he has a tendancy to become addicted, so we need to monitor it. When I spoke to his doctor about it he told me that for Matt that is his social world. Since he struggles so much to try and interpret non verbal language (tones of voice, facial expressions, gestures, etc.) and is so strong in written word it's a world that he's very comfortable in. He doesn't have to feel anxious over trying to "get" what the other person is saying. It's in front of him in black and white. We know that he needs the computer and his online world, we just have to tread very carefully that he still maintains real life contacts and relationships.

  4. Thanks for the informative article - I think a lot of kids struggle and are left behind because of undiagnosed learning problems.

  5. Very informative. I did not really understand NLD (I still don't) but this clarified some things for me.

  6. Thank you for the post and helping to educate me on nonverbal learning disorder.

  7. Thank you for this article - we have read a LOT about NLD, but this one is just about the right amount of info to share with our daughter (17 in Grade 10), who is just now finding out that she has NLD. I hope the relief outweighs the grief when she realizes there is a reason why she has had to struggle so hard with things other kids do without thinking about them.

  8. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Nice review of NLD -- except, the math weakness is questionable. My son is going to major in math, He was not good at math in the lower grades but got very good at it when he hit Algebra, geometry and the required visualization are tough for him. he love trig and then calculus I am sharing this because i think it is very important we don;t write these kids off as bad in math" or assume math difficulties based on the diagnosis. Its also incorrect to assume a kid who is good at arithmetic is going to be good at higher level math.

  9. thank you for your comment and thanks for pointing out that not everyone with NLD is bad in math. My son is a perfect case of that, as is yours. My son always grasped the math concepts easily and math was always one of his stronger subjects.
    As with any sydrome, these are a list of characteristics but that doesn't in any way mean that all people with NLD will have each characteristic. I know of some NLD kids who have most of the characteristics, and yet seem to do very well socially and have a lot of friends.
    They are all still individuals within the disorder.

  10. Hi there Barbera,
    my name is Holly, and I live in Ireland. I've only recently been diagnosed with NVLD. But it was a late diagnoses as I'm 21 but I've found that your article has helped me! Almost like a fog has been lifted from my life.

    But as well as this NVLD, I currently have non-epelitic like spassms, Is this a common thing in people with NVLD? Can't wait to read your next blog!

  11. Holly, thanks for your comments. There isn't an abundance of literature out there on NLD, but it is getting better.
    I hope that you're able to learn all you can on the disorder.
    I haven't heard that spasms are related to the disorder, however, Matt did develop a small tick a few years ago. Seeing that the disorder is neurological, and can be caused by brain injuries, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a co-relation.

  12. Anonymous4:47 PM

    My son Alex is 10 and was just diagnosed with NVLD. He's a social kid but has difficulty understanding everything social situation. He gets very upset if he thinks he's done something wrong and someone might be upset at him. He also loves the computer and loves to listen to tutorials on Mario games. He also has tics which are related to his anxiety which is a constant and tourettes to some extent. I would like more information on how to help him in school. Teachers don't know very much how to help on a daily basis. He looks normal and talk normal so everyone forgets that he can get confused easily or not understand the social situation he's in.

  13. you are not alone none of you are there are actually a lot of us NLDers out there we just have trouble finding each other! i am 15 and i have NLD i havge a blog called NVLD a teenagers view if you wanna check it out you are welcome too

  14. you are not alone none of you are there are actually a lot of us NLDers out there we just have trouble finding each other! i am 15 and i have NLD i havge a blog called NVLD a teenagers view if you wanna check it out you are welcome too

  15. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Hi. Thank you for sharing this. My daughter has NVLD and I'm looking for an educational psychologist in Dublin area (or I will travel!) who is an actual specialist!! I want the best possible information to give to the school so they can support her. At the moment it's good intentions but missing the point for my girl. She's only 7 and I hate to see her falling behind just because she's not getting the right help. Can anyone with experience point me in the right direction? Thanks so much. Lily


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