All You Need to Know About Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD) in Children

By now, we’re all somewhat familiar with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, or autism. These afflictions are extremely common among both children and adults, and the stigma associated with such issues has been significantly lifted in recent years. We have different strategies, therapies, and techniques to help children overcome these learning difficulties and thrive in their personal and their academic lives. However, there are still lesser known disabilities that we’re still trying to figure out, like dysgraphia or nonverbal learning disability. 

What is Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD)?

Nonverbal learning disability is not as commonly known as ADHD or dyslexia, but it’s becoming increasingly prevalent among young children and teens, and the bad news is that this condition tends to worsen over time. What’s more, it’s often mistaken for autism disorder or ADHD. 

Nonverbal learning disability, also known as NVLD, might be something that you haven’t really heard of before. As the name suggests, children suffering from NVLD have trouble interpreting nonverbal language, such as facial expressions, tone, and body language. NVLD also impacts a child’s ability to process visual patterns or social cues, as well as concepts in math, language, or sciences. The condition is often described as the opposite of dyslexia: children with NVLD have no issues spelling, reading, or memorizing things, but when it comes to processing, organizing, and interpreting information, they struggle. 

The first signs that a child might be suffering from nonverbal learning disability usually begin in fourth of fifth grade. This is when lessons in the classroom tend to move on from memorizing and simple tasks to more complicated concepts and ideas. Many children at this age are misdiagnosed as having ADHD, because many of the symptoms tend to overlap, including inability to focus, social awkwardness, poor academic performance, clumsiness, isolation, and even anxiety and irritability. Usually, children diagnosed with NVLD will also have an additional diagnosis of either autism or ADHD. 

The different types of NVLD

Nonverbal learning disability can affect children in different ways, and every case is unique. One of the reasons why NVLD is hard to diagnose is because symptoms often mirror other disabilities or are simply explained away as shyness or awkwardness. There are several major areas of impact when it comes to nonverbal learning disability in children, and these areas can help us identify whether a child is suffering from this disorder. 

Visual and spatial awareness issues 

Children who suffer from nonverbal learning disability usually have a hard time understanding, processing, or reproducing visual imagery. They usually have a hard time copying and creating easy shapes, like a cube or a pyramid. They also have trouble sometimes with spatial awareness and orientation, and can’t always anticipate where their next step is going to land. This is why a lot of children with NVLD will seem clumsy, unsteady or awkward in their movements, as a result of their insecurity. 

Executive functions

We use executive functions for planning, problem-solving, and organizing our thinking, so they are an essential skill set to have, especially for young children. Kids struggling with NVLD will often have trouble planning and organizing their actions, their homework, and will approach any task in a chaotic and random manner. They also tend to have issues breaking down tasks into small steps, which can lead them to feel anxious and overwhelmed. 

Higher-order comprehension

Higher-order comprehension refers to the ability to pinpoint the main idea, or topic in a story or a process, and to identify the key elements that support this idea and how they relate to it. Children struggling with nonverbal learning disability have trouble narrowing down the main idea or key focus points, as well as the relationship between them. This issue will become evident when a child with NVLD is asked to tell or write a story, or to identify themes and plots in stories, movies, or lessons. When asked to take notes or write down the most important things discussed in a lesson, they won’t be able to do that, instead writing down everything that a teacher says during the lesson, without the ability to filter the information.

Social cues

One of the biggest tell-tale signs that a child might be suffering from nonverbal learning disability is trouble communicating and taking social cues. Children will have a hard time reading emotions on another person’s face, or interpreting their body language or tone of voice. They won’t be able to recognize sarcasm or irony or recognize that someone is uncomfortable or sad. As a result, children with NVLD won’t know what the right behavior is in a given situation, and they might come off as mean, rude, or insensitive. Other children might laugh at them or think they are ‘weird,’ which can make the child with NVLD isolate from others and avoid socializing altogether. That’s why many children struggling with this issue will turn to technology instead of face-to-face interactions, because there’s not much room for interpretation in written text. 

What are the signs & symptoms of NVLD?

Now that we’ve seen the areas that nonverbal learning disabilities can impact a child’s life, let’s look at some of the most common signs and symptoms that a child might be struggling with this disorder: 

  • Trouble recognizing and interpreting nonverbal cues (body language, facial expressions, tone of voice)
  • Clumsiness and poor coordination 
  • Poor motor skills (trouble using tools, tying up their laces, cutting things, and so on)
  • Social awkwardness and excessive shyness
  • Constantly asking questions or not understanding the answers
  • Visual-spatial issues (not being able to determine one’s location in space, trouble following directions or pinpoint where they are on a map)
  • Inability to recognize or use sarcasm, irony, humor, and other nuances
  • Unable to break down tasks or processes into smaller steps
  • Unable to tell a story from start to finish
  • Difficulties summarizing a lesson or a story 
  • Excessive use of technology and devices 
  • Irritability, anxiety, and depression

How can you help a child struggling with NVLD?

Unfortunately, NVLD is not as common as ADHD or dyslexia, so not a lot is known about this condition. There is currently no standard approach to treat NVLD, but one thing is clear: if left untreated, it can worsen in time. Usually, children struggling with NVLD will also be diagnosed with autism or ADHD, so treatment for these issues might help to tone down the symptoms of NVLD, as well. 

However, it’s important for children to work with teachers and tutors to improve a child’s executive functioning skills, their physical symptoms, and teach them social and emotional skills and how to recognize certain cues in others. This will help them better communicate with others and have a fuller social life, and will also help them in their academic life, as well, improving their processing, organizing, planning, and interpretation skills. 

If you suspect your child might be suffering from nonverbal learning disability, or they’re showing signs of autism, dyslexia or ADHD, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Let’s figure it out together and help your child thrive, both at home and in the classroom!

Share this post


Monthly Newsletter

Get our tips directly into your inbox.

Every month get a free tip!

Subscribe To Our Monthly Newsletter