Nonverbal Learning Disability

The Often Misunderstood Child

A nonverbal learning disability often goes unrecognized and misunderstood because a student who has one may be successful with reading decoding and spelling. And if a student can read and spell, they must not have a real problem, right?

Typically, math calculation, reading comprehension and inferential thinking are often poor in comparison with reading decoding and spelling (Rourke, 1995) in children with a non verbal learning disability.

Non verbal learning disabilities are thought to be a dysfunction of the right hemisphere of the brain.

Professional testing is recommended to determine if this particular disability is an issue.

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Characteristics of Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD)

What signs can parents and teachers look for that may point to the need for further testing?

Children with nonverbal learning disabilities may have marked strengths - such as excellent vocabulary, good rote memory skills, and attention to detail. With such positives as these, how could there be a problem?

Well, the following characteristics may also be present in the same child:

  • Difficulty distinguishing facts from opinions
  • Weakness in analyzing and observing, including the identification of patterns
  • Trouble understanding cause and effect (this may show up in a big way in home interactions as well)
  • Poor problem solving
  • Difficulty comparing and contrasting
  • Integration and transfer of new information is weak

Another big problem area in children with a non verbal learning disability is their weakness in social skills. This is the child who doesn't seem to know how to make or keep friends, and who just doesn't "get" social cues.

Weak Social Skills

Wouldn't it be easy simply to teach students with nonverbal learning disabilities how to be a friend and get along in social situations?

It might seem so, but consider how the following weaknesses might interfere with successful relationships whether as a child or an adult:

  • Inability to "read between the lines"
  • Low self-esteem
  • Often shy or withdrawn
  • Concrete thinking
  • Trouble accepting criticism
  • Poor social perception
  • Difficulty with change
  • Often anxious or depressed
  • "Misses" social or nonverbal clues (such as reading facial expressions)
  • Often awkward
  • Often fails to understand humor, sarcasm or jokes
  • Easily frustrated
  • Displays inflexible thinking

Imagine, for a moment, a child with the above weaknesses out on the playground with his or her peers. How quickly do you think he or she would be accepted by those other students who have an innate "knack" for understanding the 'rules of the jungle", so to speak? Now imagine an adult in your office who has trouble with the above social skills. Would he or she be easily accepted into that adult world?

Comprehension Counts

We might say that a person with a nonverbal learning disability has an "across the board" problem with comprehension.

This will likely include trouble comprehending complex math, understanding the main idea of a reading passage, generalizing information, test taking and understanding social language.

You can see why such a child has a difficult time making good grades or friends! Poor work habits, disorganization and difficulty starting and finishing tasks make for a tough time academically as well as socially.

It is so important to have professional testing done if a nonverbal learning disability is suspected. Support and intervention are critical for a student with these issues.

The WISC-IV IQ test will often show a large discrepancy between the Verbal IQ score and the Perceptual IQ score in students with a nonverbal learning disability. This points to a specific area of weakness which can often be successfully addressed with educational therapy and modifications in the school and at home.

A nonverbal learning disability CAN be overcome!