Nonverbal learning disorder

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A nonverbal learning disorder or nonverbal learning disability (NLD or NVLD) is a neurological disorder characterized by a significant discrepancy between high verbal scores and lower performance scores on an IQ test.[1] People with NLD often have poor motor, and visuo-spatial skills.[citation needed] An extremely small percentage of the population is thought to be diagnosed with the disorder.[citation needed]

NLD involves deficits in perception, coordination, socialisation, non-verbal problem-solving, and understanding of humour.[2]


Non-verbal communication[edit]

People with this disability may misunderstand non-verbal communications, or they may understand the communications but be unable to formulate an appropriate response. This can make establishing and maintaining social contacts difficult. Eye contact can also be difficult for people with NLD, either because they are uncomfortable with maintaining it (because processing its input overtaxes their nonverbal cognitive resources and/or because they are nervous about its sending or receiving inaccurate messages) or because they do not remember that others expect it. Similarly, knowing when and how to use physical contact and recognizing emotions in others and expressing them for oneself can be problematic.

Verbal communication[edit]

People with NLD may be described as talking too much and too quickly, and they may be early readers, good at grammar, and good spellers. Verbal communication skills are often strong, and people with NLD often rely on verbal communication as their main method of gathering information and maintaining social contact with other people. As a result, they often depend on verbal reasoning skills to compensate in areas where they have deficits. For example, they may "talk themselves through" a situation involving a large number of and/or a wide variety of visuo-spatial and/or numerical data. People with NLD can become confused and feel overwhelmed when the number and variety of nonverbal stimuli exceed their processing abilities, especially when those stimuli must be processed in "real time."[citation needed]

Numerical and spatial awareness[edit]

Arithmetic and mathematics can be very difficult for people with NLD. Young children with NLD are often seen as brighter than their peers.[citation needed] However, as these children enter the upper elementary grades or begin middle school and they are left to handle more tasks on their own, things can rapidly begin to deteriorate. They can have problems with finding their way, remembering assignments. They can struggle with math and misunderstand teachers and peers. They can be accused of being lazy or uncooperative. An NLD person's math skills are typically several years behind those of their peers. Teachers and peers are often confused by this because the NLD person has good language skills.[citation needed]

Many children with NLD often have difficulty with learning Geometry and acquiring analytical skills to interpret certain information that is associated with spatial ability.


People with NLD often have motor difficulties. This can manifest in their walking and running, which sometimes appear stiff. They may have difficulty with activities requiring good balance and feel unsteady when climbing up or down. They may also be more likely to run into things, due to judging distances poorly. Fine motor skills can also be poor, causing difficulty with writing, drawing, and tying shoelaces. Those with NLD are often labeled as "clumsy" or "stiff" by teachers and peers. Learning a musical instrument such as the guitar and piano can prove to be especially challenging for children with NLD. Hand–eye coordination, rhythm, tempo, and visual processing are often involved with learning such instruments effectively. Athletic involvement is also negatively impacted by the symptoms of NLD, as several motor skills are required to play many sports.


People with NLD, more than many others, fear failure. Because of difficulties with nonverbal communication, people with NLD often worry excessively about offending other people. They may feel that they have to do too much at once, and then do not know where to start. This allows them to stagnate, and then do nothing. Sometimes they try to multitask and again end up doing nothing, which can lead to frustration. They may experience the world around them as a chaos, the actions that they must perform well and quickly creating a sense of helplessness. Clumsiness in performing tasks may be criticized by teachers or in the workplace, causing further fear of failure.[citation needed]


Individuals with NLD also commonly experience clinical depression, often because their difficulties with non-verbal communication make it hard to make friends and they feel isolated, lonely, and misunderstood by others. There is a high incidence of suicide within the NLD population. Sometimes they are angry at themselves more than others, creating a sense of uselessness which can lead to depression and/or suicide.[citation needed] Their depressive symptoms are thought to be attributed to disruption in functioning in multiple settings and the associated hindrance to succeeding in the same capacities as do neurotypical peers. These difficulties may lead to hopelessness and have deleterious effects on self-esteem, thereby increasing the risk of suicide. Many researchers have speculated that individuals who meet the criteria for NLD are not officially diagnosed and that their having to deal with these issues on their own might increase suicidal ideation.


Nonverbal learning disorder has been observed to co-exist with other learning problems, such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Research is ongoing to determine the extent of the links between these.

NLD and ADHD[edit]

Nonverbal learning disorder is a common co-existing disorder in people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.[3] This tends to make diagnosis for both conditions rather challenging as it may become difficult to identify the symptoms of each disorder separately.[citation needed]

NLD and Autism[edit]

Ongoing debate surrounds the relationship between Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and NLD, as research on the condition is ongoing and procedures can differ from ASD research. Although people with ASDs often fit the criteria for NLD, a diagnosis of an ASD is often preferred.[2] In this instance, some researchers assert that an ASD diagnosis is more clinically useful than an NLD diagnosis, and argue that NLD would be an example of excessive diagnostic splitting.

NLD can also occur with other disorders. As with Autism Spectrum Disorders, NLD exists on a spectrum, and those affected can experience it in a range of ways.[citation needed] Those with an NLD diagnosis can experience some or all of the symptoms, and to varying degrees.

Some proponents of the category believe that this discrepancy is attributable to dysfunction in the right cerebral hemisphere.[1][4] Heritability is also thought to be associated with the on-set and maintenance of some of the recognizable symptoms.[citation needed]


Nonverbal learning disabilities affect one in ten learning disabled children.[5]

In the media[edit]

A documentary tentatively called The NLD Revolution is said to be released in 2015 by Canadian emerging filmmaker Sonetta Duncan. [6][7]


Several schools have been founded in the past couple of decades to serve students with NLD. They include: Orion Academy, Franklin Academy, and The Springstone School.

Scientific research[edit]


  1. ^ a b Treffert, Darold. "Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD or NVLD)". Wisconsin Medical Society. 
  2. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Michael; Corvin, Aiden (2001). "Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Asperger syndrome". Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (The Royal College of Psychiatrists) 7 (4): 310–318. doi:10.1192/apt.7.4.310. ISSN 1472-1481. 
  3. ^ Semrud-Clikeman M, Bledsoe J; Bledsoe (October 2011). "Updates on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disorders". Curr Psychiatry Rep 13 (5): 364–73. doi:10.1007/s11920-011-0211-5. PMID 21701839. 
  4. ^ "Nonverbal Learning Disorders Association". 
  5. ^ Liza Little, PsyD, RN. "The Misunderstood Child: The Child With a Nonverbal Learning Disorder". 
  6. ^ Duncan, Sonetta. "Untitled: NLD Documentary (2015)". IMDb. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Duncan, Sonetta. "The NLD Revolution (2015)". Retrieved 16 May 2014.