Could Your Child Have Non-Verbal Learning Disorder?

13_46This week marks the beginning of another school year. Getting back into the swing of things can be difficult for any child, but for the nearly one million children who have a learning disability, back-to-school can be even more challenging. This is  especially true for children whose learning disability has slipped under the radar and are not getting the extra help they need to succeed academically. One learning disability which is particularly hard to spot is non-verbal learning disorder, or NLD.

The term “non-verbal learning disorder” is a little misleading: children with NLD actually have excellent verbal skills. Non-verbal communication, however, is extremely difficult for these children. NLD can be difficult to recognize because it often first appears as a strength. Because a child with NLD typically has strong verbal skills, a large vocabulary, and strong rote memory they are often classified as gifted. However, the more subtle non-verbal deficits may go unnoticed.

Here are some signs and characteristics that are typical of a non-verbal learning disability:

  1. Has trouble reading facial expressions, gestures, or other nonverbal cues. This can present as poor social skills and difficulty bonding with peers.
  2. Processes information in a linear, sequential manner, missing multiple dimensions
  3. Focuses on details, but misses the main idea. Has trouble “seeing the forest for the trees”
  4. Difficulty with fine-motor skills. This is often first noticed in messy, laborious handwriting.
  5. Overall physically awkward with poor coordination
  6. Takes things very literally, and has difficulty with abstract concepts
  7. Difficulty with math, especially word problems

As a child with NLD ages, their non-verbal deficits can cause significant academic and social issues. Difficulty interpreting the non-verbal cues of others (e.g. body language, intonation, facial expression) can cause problems connecting with their peers. Academically, poor organization and difficulty understanding abstract concepts often interferes with school work.

While it may seem counterintuitive, children with NLD can greatly benefit from the services of a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist. The speech therapist can work with the child to learn how to better understand and interpret non-verbal cues in communication and improve their interactions with others. Speech therapy will also target organizational skills to improve the child’s writing and overall academic performance, and help them to focus on important information and filter out trivial details

Want to learn more? If you have any questions or would like to know more about speech-language therapy, give me a call at (212) 308-7725 or send an e-mail to I’d be happy to chat and answer any questions you may have.

© 2015, Speech Associates of New York – All Rights Reserved


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