Nonverbal learning disability. Does your child have difficulty relating to other children? Does he have a hard time understanding subtle voice changes or sarcasm? Learning disabilities are not reduced to dyslexia and dyscalculia. Learn everything you need to know about nonverbal learning disabilities, what is it, what are its signs and symptoms and what are the treatments including tips for parents.
What is a nonverbal learning disability?
A nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) affects children’s social skills but not their speech or writing skills. A nonverbal learning disability is a neurologically based disorder which is characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills. It was first identified in 1985 by Byron P. Rourke.
“Nonverbal learning disorder is defined as a dysfunction of the brain’s right hemisphere – that part of the brain which processes nonverbal, performance-based information, including visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational and evaluative processing functions.”
Children with a nonverbal learning disability tend to speak a lot but don’t share in a socially appropriate way. They are prone to miss social cues, have misunderstandings with teachers, parents and other adults, as well as having a hard time keeping friends.
The main difference with children with dyslexia is that children with a nonverbal learning disability have trouble understanding communication that is not verbal, therefore tone of voice, expressions, body language, etc.
Expression of sarcasm, teasing or others are taken seriously and subtleties are lost in the message. It is said that 10% of the children diagnosed with a learning disorder have a nonverbal learning disability. Nearly 3 million people in the United States have NVLD.
A nonverbal learning disability doesn’t appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and it’s not recognized as a disability covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
What causes nonverbal learning disability?
Several studies have been made in order to find the causes of nonverbal learning disability, however, no exact cause has been found. They are looking into differences in important brain processes and functions of the left and right sides of the brain. Experts believe that there is damage to the part of the brain that sends signals between the two sides.
Nonverbal learning disabilities- Symptoms
Some symptoms include:
- Trouble recognizing nonverbal cues such as facial expression or body language
- Is clumsy; seems to be constantly “getting in the way,” bumping into people and objects
- Using fine motor skills a challenge: tying shoes, writing, using scissors
- Needs to verbally label everything that happens to comprehend circumstances
- Remembers information but doesn’t know why it’s important
- Shares information in socially inappropriate ways
- Pays attention to details but misses the big picture
- Struggles with reading comprehension
- Struggles with math, especially word problems
- Is physically awkward and uncoordinated
- Messy handwriting
- Is fearful of new situations
- Is overly dependent on parents
- Stands too close to people
- Difficulty coping with changes in routing and transitions
- Difficulty generalizing previously learned information
- Difficulty following multi-step instructions
- Make very literal translations
- Asks too many questions, maybe repetitive and inappropriately interrupt.
If you view any of the following signs, it’s important you take your child to a specialist:
- Developmental histories sometimes indicate precocious language development with slight delays in the acquisition of motor milestones.
- Have histories of tactile defensiveness, or at least were not thought of as cuddly.
- Boys tend to be identified somewhat earlier than girls, however.
- Often regarded as clumsy or uncoordinated and as impulsive.
- Usually thought of as being bright, but unmotivated and lazy.
- Highly verbal and articulate. They will talk excessively in many situations but express relatively little meaningful content.
- Generally, these children will interact well with adults but exhibit poor social interactional skills with other children.
- Academically, these children have a characteristic profile of “hyperlexia” or at least average reading recognition skills. They may have a slow start in reading, exhibit poor reading comprehension, and have poor mechanical arithmetic abilities.
These children will show a characteristic pattern of neuropsychological evaluation:
- Sensory Impairments
- Bilateral Motor Impairment
- Fingertip Number Writing Recognition
- Finger Agnosia
- Suppressions of Double Simultaneous Stimulation
- Impairment of Category Test
- Depressed Scores on Tactual Performance Test, Target Test
- Dysgraphic Writing
As the child with NVLD develops and grows the difficulties may become more and more obvious. They start to develop anxiety and compulsive behaviors since they become more and more aware that their relationship patterns are inadequate.
Some of the following skills might be affected, conceptual skills, motor skills,visual-spatial skills, social skills and abstract thinking.
Nonverbal learning disability- Diagnosis
There is no single exam to diagnose NVLD, some people start by getting a medical exam and getting a referral to a mental health professional. Usually, these professionals will evaluate speech, language, visual-spatial organization and motor skills. Then with all this information, they will develop a pattern of strengths and weaknesses which will help determine if the child has the condition.
A nonverbal learning disability can be mixed with other disorders such as ADHD, language disorders, and Asperger’s syndrome.
Nonverbal learning disability- Treatment
The earlier you know about your child’s issues, the sooner you’ll be able to find treatments and strategies that can help build social skills and relieve anxiety.
The therapies and treatment included for a nonverbal learning disability are social skills groups, parent behavioral training, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy and school adaptations.
If you think your child might be at risk for a nonverbal learning disability you can follow these tips:
- Think about how you say things and how they understand it.
- Help with transitions. For example, staying at grandma or at a friends house.
- Keep an eye on your child. Try to avoid situations that may trigger discomfort like overcrowded and noise sites.
- Encourage play dates. Help your child find other kids interested in the same toys and activities as your child. This will help strengthen social relationships.
Does your child have any of the symptoms? Please feel free to comment below.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.