Children and teens with a nonverbal learning disability (NLD) have poor visual, spatial, and motor skills. They also have trouble recognizing and understanding nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expression.
Children with an NLD usually start out learning to read fairly well. They also have large vocabularies. They tend to have more trouble after second grade.
NLD is the least recognized among the learning disorders. Children with this problem may not be properly diagnosed and may not get the help they need.
The brain has 2 hemispheres, right and left. NLD is caused mostly by weaker skills involving the right side of the brain. NLD may be called the "right hemisphere disability." The more common learning disabilities mainly involve problems in the left side of the brain.
Many children and teens with an NLD had medical problems during their mother's pregnancy or birth. Some of the common pregnancy and birth difficulties are:
NLD is more common when the mother smoked and drank alcohol during the pregnancy. Mothers who were ill during their pregnancy are also more likely to have children with an NLD.
Nonverbal learning disabilities are much less likely to run in families than other learning disabilities. NLD is as common in girls as in boys.
A child with an NLD does not have trouble with phonics and sounding out words. For this reason the NLD child usually does fairly well with reading words in kindergarten through second grade. NLD children do not have trouble learning to talk or use language. In fact, many children with NLD talk early and have excellent verbal skills.
A child with an NLD usually has trouble:
Children with NLD often have problems with spelling. Problems are usually with words that cannot be sounded out (like the word "enough") or with words that could be spelled phonetically several ways, such as the word "puzzle."
Many children with a NLD have trouble immediately recognizing words that they have previously sounded out over and over. Trouble visually recognizing words quickly can make the NLD child a slow reader. They often stop to sound out words which others their age recognize right away.
Math is almost always difficult for the NLD child. Visual aids designed to help learn math are often not very helpful. Talking through the steps of math problems is often much more helpful.
Many NLD children also have coordination difficulties. These children are often:
Children and teens with the more severe forms of a NLD often have social difficulties. They often:
Your child's healthcare provider or a mental health therapist will ask about the child's symptoms, medical and family history, and any medicines the child is taking. Sometimes a CT scan of the brain or an EEG will be done to screen for any physical problems. Your child will be evaluated to see if there are other problems such as ADHD or other learning disabilities.
The healthcare provider can refer you to a specialist. NLD is diagnosed by a psychologist or an educational expert trained in testing for learning disabilities.
Public schools are required by federal law to test children when a learning disability is suspected. Many public school tests, however, cannot tell whether a child has NLD or some other learning disability.
There are no cures or direct treatments for an NLD. Medicines are generally not helpful for NLD, but may help with some symptoms.
Tutoring and special instruction in the areas of weakness are helpful. Some children may need special education classes at school for some or all academic subjects.
Seeing a pediatric occupational therapist is often helpful. Occupational therapy helps your child learn better visual processing skills. This will help with drawing, keeping spaces between words, and handwriting. The therapist may also use sensory integration (SI) therapy. SI therapy involves special activities that help children overcome problems with senses such as touch, sight, hearing, and movement. This may improve their behavior and ability to pay attention.
Children who have social skill problems often need training in how to respond socially. Counseling can help to teach social skills and help deal with low self esteem.
Children do not just "grow out of" learning disabilities. They often continue to have problems in adulthood. However, most children with NLD do very well with extra help and learning how to cope with their weaknesses.
NLD children very often excel at music and tasks that use their language skills. They are often very bright and eager to gain and share their knowledge. They often do well with oral presentations and creative writing.
If your child or teenager has the symptoms of NLD, contact his or her school about testing. Ask specifically if the tests are sensitive to nonverbal learning disabilities. If the tests available through the school are not designed well for spotting NLD, you may need to find private testing. For more information, see:
NLD on the Web
Web site: http://www.nldontheweb.org/home.html
The Learning Project
WETA Public Television
Web site: http://www.ldonline.org/indepth/nonverbal