What are the Signs of Non Verbal Learning Disorder
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What are the Signs of Non Verbal Learning Disorder?

written by: Sandi Johnson • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/21/2010

Non Verbal Learning Disorder (NLD) is very similar to Asperger’s syndrome in both signs and symptoms. This leads to children with NLD often carrying the misdiagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS.)

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    Professional Views and Similarities

    Some experts and researchers suggest that NLD and Asperger’s may simply be various shades of the same disorder. Technically speaking, there is no officially recognized psychological diagnosis of NLD. Instead, it is a term used by professionals to describe a particular set of neurologically related difficulties. These difficulties are very similar to Asperger’s, but are experienced to a much lesser extent. It is believed NLD is related to defects, dysfunction or damage to the right hemisphere of the brain.

    The symptoms and indicative signs of Nonverbal Learning Disorders that share a likeness to PDDs include poor social skills and very “concrete" thinking. Like many children with Asperger’s, children with NLD learn language at a normal pace. However, these children often have trouble utilizing language appropriately in social situations. Children with NLD will also present with a wide gap between verbal IQ and performance IQ. In other words, they learn and memorize, but struggle to apply that knowledge to novel situations.

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    Signs of Non Verbal Learning Disorder

    One of the prime characteristics of NLD is a child’s inability to recognize nonverbal social cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language. Children will misread these cues and thus react inappropriately. Often, school personnel view or describe these children as rude, disinterested, or that they have behavior problems. Their responses to social situations do not conform to normal responses and can be unpredictable. However, since they are very articulate and excel in academics, a learning disorder is seldom suspected, thus perpetuating the idea that their behavior is willful rather than the result of a neurological dysfunction.

    The most common signs of Nonverbal Learning Disorders are listed below. However, as with developmental disabilities, not all symptoms will be the same for all children. NLD is a disorder which presents with both assets and deficits, with each child having their own mix of each.

    • Poor coordination, physically clumsy, lack of balance
    • Struggles with fine motor skills such as learning to tie shoes, riding a bike, or puzzles
    • Excels in memorizing information
    • Normal to exceptionally high language development and verbal articulation
    • Failure to read body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other social cues
    • Struggles to understand humor or to recognize teasing
    • Poor social skills and interpersonal relationships
    • Gets lost easily, even in familiar areas
    • Lacks understanding of personal space and frequently invades the space of others
    • Takes figures of speech and other symbolic language literally, thinks in black and white, or has very concrete thinking
    • May exhibit signs of anxiety, poor attention span, and/or depression
    • Difficulties with math, particularly word problems
    • Does not learn from experience, struggles to apply knowledge to novel situations
    • Poor reading comprehension
    • Inflexible, trouble adjusting to new situations or changes in plans
    • Seems to lack common sense
    • Performs exceptionally well in terms of tasks involving kinesthetic memory
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    References and Resources

    The University of Michigan NLD Information: http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/nld.htm

    Ohio State University Fact Sheet: http://ohioline.osu.edu/flm03/FS11.pdf

    Stanford School of Medicine: http://whatmeds.stanford.edu/diagnoses/nonverbal_learning.html

    LD Online: http://www.ldonline.org/article/Nonverbal_Learning_Disorders

    Nonverbal Learning Disorders Association: http://www.nlda.org/index.php?submenu=Education&src=gendocs&link=WhatIsNLD

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