Non-verbal Learning Disorders:  Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NLD), like all learning disabilities (LD), are brain-based problems that affect one or more ways that a person takes in, stores or uses information. LDs can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing, and math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time management and social skills. People with LDs are intelligent and have abilities to learn despite difficulties in processing information. People with nonverbal learning disabilities have relatively strong verbal skills, while their nonverbal skills are weak.

Issues with reading and writing are typically recognized and identified when a child goes to school, as the symptoms of verbal learning disabilities are more apparent.

However, non-verbal learning disabilities are often under- or misdiagnosed. This is because in a child's early years, reading ability tends to be the main indicator of academic success and progress — and in some cases, children with a non-verbal learning disability display superior verbal abilities.

Non-verbal learning disabilities are often those that describe a cluster of challenges and deficits, most often associated with non-language areas. In this case, issues with mathematics may appear early on. Issues regarding non-linguistic aspects of communication, including facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are also often demonstrated.

What Does NLD affect?

People with NLD often have strengths in:

Verbal Intelligence: analyzing information and solving problems using language based reasoning

Verbal Skills: understanding what is said and expressing ideas

Phonological Processing: identifying and manipulating speech sounds

Memory Retrieval: recalling information from memory

People with NLD struggle in one or more of the following areas:

Visual-spatial skills: perceiving patterns and/or understanding how things fit together in time and in space 

Organizational skills: figuring out how to arrange things and/or breaking tasks down into component parts and combining parts to make the whole 

Motor skills: coordinating movements (e.g., physical awkwardness, writing problems)

Social and emotional skills: processing complex or novel information and/or figuring out the meaning of the actions, the nonverbal behaviour and the emotions of others 

Adjusting to novelty or transitions: moving from one task to another and/or adjusting to a change in routine

For people with NLD these challenges often lead to problems in social judgment and social interaction. The specifics effects vary depending on the individual.


·       Rehearse getting from place to place

·       Minimize transitions and give several verbal cues before transition

·       Avoid assuming the student will automatically generalize instructions or concepts

·       Verbally point out similarities, differences and connections; number and present instructions in sequence; simplify and break down abstract concepts, explain metaphors, nuances and multiple meanings in reading material

·       Answer the student’s questions when possible, but let them know a specific number (three vs. a few) and that you can answer three more at recess, or after school

·       Allow the child to abstain from participating in activities at signs of overload

·       Thoroughly prepare the child in advance for field trips, or other changes, regardless of how minimal

·       Implement a modified schedule or creative programming

·       Never assume child understands something because he or she can “parrot back” what you’ve just said

·       Offer added verbal explanations when the child seems lost or registers confusion