Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) is often a catchall phrase used to connect a variety of learning difficulties children have. Nonverbal learning disorder is on the autism scale, although these children and adults may not suffer from autism or Asperger’s. With autism, communication is often stunted and speech may be significantly delayed. In contrast, though the term nonverbal learning disorder suggests otherwise, NLD kids are very verbal.
There are several ways to describe the characteristics of nonverbal learning disorder. Not all children have all characteristics, and they may exhibit some characteristics in minor degrees. However, it can be said of most children with NLD that their exceptional verbal skills often confuses teachers, who may assess a child with nonverbal learning disorder as lazy or unmotivated when it comes to producing written work.
Children with nonverbal learning disorder may be able to mask some of the aspects of the condition with excellent long-term memory skills. However, a degree of both fine and gross motor skill impairment often makes writing very difficult. In the third or fourth grade, when writing assignments become longer, usually the child with NLD can no longer hide their disability. When NLD is not diagnosed, social stigma and angry words by the teacher can make school an especially difficult place to be.
When NLD is suspected, schools are good at helping to point out characteristics that may indicate NLD. Only a neuropsychologist can diagnose NLD, and unfortunately, most counseling services required to assess NLD are not covered by insurance plans. However, parents looking for reasons why their child or children may not be doing well in school might look to the following to determine whether NLD should be suspected.
Academically, children with nonverbal learning disorder may exhibit:
Socially, children with nonverbal learning disorder may exhibit:
Physically, children with nonverbal learning disorder may show:
When misunderstood, the child with nonverbal learning disorder faces a very rough path that often results in isolation. NLD children have a greater risk of becoming suicidal as teenagers and adults because they are so frequently cut-off from peers, teachers and sometimes parents as well. Modifications allowing the child to work at a slower rate, complete some assignments verbally, and giving the child clear, strictly verbal instructions can increase student success.
Nonverbal learning disorder does not have one specific cause, but is clearly attributed to right brain development or deficits. Early injury to the brain might result in NLD, but most children with NLD have no history of brain injury. In some way, the right brain is failing to function as normal, resulting in some or all of the above traits. Treatment must focus on adaptation of the school, parents and teachers to the child, as the child cannot really adapt him or herself.
With early intervention, these children can be successful students, often enjoying greatest success in math and sciences. For parents, the task of parenting the NLD child can be quite challenging, but with diligence and patience, the end result will be a child who functions well socially and academically.