Nonverbal learning disability

Understanding nonverbal learning disability.

 - NVLD impacts spatial, motor and emotional skills.
 - NVLD often goes undiagnosed.

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Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Disability Definition, Symptoms & Signs of NLD

The definition of Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD or NLD) is almost the opposite of what it seems to mean. People with this disability are actually highly verbal but are challenged when it comes to processing non-verbal information.

Nonverbal learning disorder

Definition
NLD was first identified around 1985 by Byron P. Rourke, who wrote that "Nonverbal learning disability 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."

It is believed that about 10% of children who have been identified with learning disabilities have nonverbal learning disabilities. This means that nearly 1 percent of the U.S. population, nearly 3 million people, have NVLD or NLD.

Symptoms of NLD

NLD can be seen in three areas of child development: motor, social and visual-spatial. Some children will exhibit problems in all three areas while some may only have problems with one or two of these areas.

Motor Skills
Children with NLD often have weaker-than-normal motor skills, both gross-motor and fine-motor. Riding a bike or playing soccer can be difficult, as can using scissors or even holding a pencil or fork.

Social
Children with NLD are unable to process visual "cues." Scientists tell us that nearly 65 percent of a regular face-to-face conversation is communicated non-verbally, that is to say with facial and hand gestures and with changes in tone or pitch.

So while most people would interpret their conversational partner's yawn as a cue to speed things up or move along, children with NLD do not. They simply don't understand this nonverbal cue and will continue on with their side of the conversation unabated. NLD children also have a hard time with innuendo and nuances. People with NLD also do not understand the concept of personal space and often make others uncomfortable by crowding in.

Children with nonverbal learning disabilities

Visual-Spatial Skills
Group activities, such as being in a classroom, may well be where NLD is most identifiable. Because they are missing all of the non-verbal interactions going on around them, they do not understand what is going on. They may refuse to stay seated or may hum or distract themselves in other ways that are disruptive to the group without understanding that they are acting inappropriately.

Children with NLD can also have problems handling a series of tasks. Being told to do a series of things usually results in either a blank stare or other behavior that seems to be defiant. This symptom may also be indicative of an auditory processing disorder.

Misdiagnosis
Nonverbal learning disorders are often misdiagnosed. Often a child with NLD may initially be considered to have ADD/ADHD, to be autistic or suffer from Asperger syndrome, a reason for having multiple evaluations done.

Early Warning Signs

Here are some red flags, signs to look for, that may point to a possible Nonverbal Learning Disability:

  1. Developmental histories sometimes indicate precocious language development with slight delays in acquisition of motor milestones.

  2. As infants, these children might have histories of tactile defensiveness, or at least were not thought of as cuddly.

  3. As a group, these children are identified as learning disabled much later that usual. Boys tend to be identified somewhat earlier than girls, however.

  4. These children are often regarded as clumsy or uncoordinated and as impulsive.

  5. These children are usually thought of as being bright, but unmotivated and lazy.

  6. These children are highly verbal and articulate. They will talk excessively in many situations, but express relatively little meaningful content (e.g., "cocktail party" speech).

  7. Generally, these children will interact well with adults, but exhibit poor social interactional skills with children (and may have few friends).

  8. Intellectually, these children may have depressed performance scores, relative to verbal scores on the WISC-R (an intelligence test).

  9. 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.

  10. These children will exhibit a characteristic profile on personality evaluation. They will show peak scores on the Depression, Anxiety, Psychosis, and/or Withdrawal subscales of the Personality Inventory for Children. Often they are referred for suspected primary emotional disturbance due to difficulties with their emotional functioning.

  11. Child with NLD
  12. These children will show a characteristic pattern on 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


Fast ForWord & Nonverbal Learning Disabilities

In general, Fast ForWord is at its most helpful where there is a language or reading issue, or at least clues that there is an underlying auditory processing difficulty, inattentiveness, for instance. In many children with NLD, there are often language or reading difficulties, where Fast ForWord can be helpful. The best next step is to call a Gemm Learning educational consultant, to find out if we can help or send Gemm an email.