Non-verbal learning disability (NVLD or NLD) is not recognized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-V, 2013), or Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA, 2004) as it is controversial among medical and educational professionals. As a result, children in public schools do not receive special education support services under this diagnosis, but may qualify for services under other diagnoses such as ADHD or Autism. Since education professionals focus primarily on language-based learning disabilities, NVLD often goes unidentified in children with strong verbal abilities. Evaluation and testing by a knowledgeable professional may be warranted to determine if your child is struggling with this disability.

Definition

According to NVLD Project, the key traits of NVLD are:

  1. strong verbal abilities (well-developed vocabulary, strong memory of details, learns lists of facts easily);
  2. deficits in non-verbal communication (reading facial expressions & body language); and
  3. visual-spatial abilities (difficulty completing puzzles, following spatial directions, building with blocks).

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to current research, best practices, and support for NVLD, seeks inclusion in DSM as a recognized disorder and defines NVLD, setting the standard for identification and diagnosis.

 

Characteristics Checklist

  • Large vocabulary with strong verbal skills
  • Attention to detail, but misses the big picture
  • Strong decoding skills, but poor reading comprehension
  • Poor fine motor skills (using scissors, tying shoelaces, pencil grip)
  • Sometimes weak gross motor skills (throwing a ball, riding a bike, etc.)
  • Lack of spatial awareness (bumping into people and things, unable to following directions when traveling, appears clumsy)
  • Difficulty with organization, planning, and activities that require multitasking
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Great auditory learner, but trouble recalling visual information
  • Struggles with peer relationships and forming friendships
  • Difficulty reading social cues, often stands too close to someone
  • Difficulty interpreting social interactions and working in groups
  • Fears new situations and has trouble understanding them
  • Struggles with interpreting non-verbal communication (facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, etc.)
  • Doesn’t understand idioms, humor, sarcasm, the tone of an author; is a concrete thinker
  • Struggles with organizing essays; handwriting is laborious and messy
  • Trouble understanding charts, diagrams, maps, and graphs
  • Difficulty with abstract math (fractions, geometric shapes & word problems)
  • A child with NVLD is often considered by others as ‘spacey’ or a ‘smart aleck’ because of their concrete interpretation of language.

Sources:

Diagnosis

When having your child evaluated, a diagnostician will look for a significant difference between perceptual reasoning and verbal comprehension, as measured by intelligence tests. Children suspected of having NVLD should also be assessed in these areas although they may not exhibit weaknesses in all five:

  1. visual and spatial awareness,
  2. higher-order comprehension,
  3. social communication,
  4. math concepts, and
  5. executive functions.

ADDitude offers a twelve question self-test screener to determine if your child is struggling with traits of NVLD and may need an evaluation by a neuropsychologist or education psychologist familiar with an array of childhood learning disabilities.

A good evaluation requires parents be informed, prepared, and knowledgeable as to what the results mean and how to use the information to assist your child in learning. The following links will help facilitate this.

TIP

NVLD is often mistaken as ADHD, a more commonly know condition, due to overlapping traits. However, the two are not the same. Kids with NVLD are struggling to interpret the world around them, whereas those with ADHD are learning to adapt to the structure of the world they live in.  The majority of communication is non-verbal (body language, facial expressions, tone of voice), yet those with NVLD must rely on verbal skills to navigate social situations.  As a result, ADHD medical treatments such as Ritalin, Focalin, and Adderall do not work for these children. Furthermore, NVLD is not the same as Autism (formerly Asperger’s) although some symptoms overlap. Therefore securing a knowledgeable diagnostician is critical.

ADDitude, NVLD is not ADHD

Teaching Strategies

Spatial Perception Problems

  1. Prepare for new situations by reviewing strategies the student used to handle similar circumstances.
  2. Provide specific verbal instruction for anything that requires understanding a part/whole relationship.
  3. Reduce amount of visual stimulus on a page.
  4. Provide feedback about why difficulties arise, in a positive manner.

Attention Problems

  1. Use frequent eye contact to check if student is listening.
  2. Repeat a predetermined ‘alerting’ word that instructions are coming next.
  3. Offer movement breaks & objects to fidget with while studying.
  4. Situate seating with limited visual distractions.

Motor Problems

  1. Use explicit instruction (with repetition) when teaching a motor skill.
  2. Provide handwriting instruction such as Handwriting Without Tears.
  3. Provide keyboarding instruction such as Type to Learn.
  4. Employ an Occupational Therapist.

Executive Function Problems

  1. Provide samples/models of how to solve new problems.
  2. Develop steps to take when approaching an unfamiliar problem.
  3. Practice learning material in many different ways such as: labeling it, drawing it, answering essay questions about it, and completing short answer questions.

Writing Problems

  1. Use graphic organizers (concept maps, flow charts, outlines, etc.).
  2. Allow students to type written assignments or use voice recognition software such as Talk to Type instead of handwriting.

For Associated Math Problems

  1. Use language to describe every step explicitly creating a script to follow.
  2. Show sample problems on top of worksheet (or a test).
  3. Use consistent spatial arrangement of items in math problems; use graph paper.

Source: Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities Project, Interventions

Parenting Strategies

  1. Keep the environment predictable and familiar by providing structure and routine.
  2. Prepare your child for changes, giving logical explanations.
  3. Be logical, organized, clear, concise and concrete, state your expectations clearly.
  4. Be very specific about cause and effect relationships.
  5. Have your child use the computer for schoolwork.
  6. Teach organizational and time management skills.
  7. Teach social skills or locate a small-group social skills training program.
  8. Teach non-verbal communication.
  9. Encourage your child to develop interests that will build her self-esteem.
  10. Talk to your child in private after you have gone with him to a group activity. Discuss how to improve interactions with other children.
  11. Find your child a playmate with something in common and set up play dates.

Sources:

Resources

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities Project  provides videos of experts discussing and explaining NVLD; lists of interventions for teaching a child with NVLD; plus videos, books, and toolkits to assists with academic and social success.

ADDitude, What is NVLD

Understood, About NVLD

Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities provides ample information how to increase awareness, and understanding of NVLD, as well as aids to teach and work with students with NVLD.