Nonverbal Learning Disabilities

Most academic accomplishments are measured through language-based communication, however more than 65% of all communication is conveyed nonverbally. As speech and language pathologists we are well trained and quite experienced in identifying language-based disorders. Nonverbal learning disabilities (NLD) are much more difficult to identify.

NLD often manifest in the early elementary grades. At first glance, these individuals do not appear to be learning disabled. They typically are top readers, achieve excellent spelling scores, are quite articulate, and develop exceptional rote memory skills. There are three broad aspects of development which NLD individuals present abnormalities: motoric, visual-spatial-organizational, and social.

An NLD individual generally has a history of poor motor coordination. It is first observed by parents as motor clumsiness. Later it may reveal itself as dysgraphia.

Visual-spatial-organizational confusion underlies many unusual behaviors an NLD individual possesses. Experiences are stored in memory by verbal labels rather than visual images. This leads to poor memory for novel and/or complex material, which is not easily coded verbally. An NLD individual often talks through situations to verbally compensate for motoric and visual-spatial deficiencies. Furthermore, this individual may have difficulty remembering shapes of letters and the correct sequence of strokes to write them.

Deficits in social judgement and social awareness also exist. These individuals are often labeled as "annoying." They struggle to fit in and are motivated to adapt socially, however they perceive and interpret social situations inaccurately. NLD individuals are unable to process perceptual cues in communication. They also tend to literally translate communication. This eventually leads to continuous misinterpretations and misjudgments ending in failed social interactions.

NLD individuals are especially inclined towards developing depression and/or anxiety disorders if the NLD is not recognized and treated early. It is also not uncommon for these individuals to be misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

NLD constitute a dysfunction in basic cerebral processes and denote a disability that warrants specialized support and school program modification.