All About Nonverbal Learning Disorder Syndrome

Nonverbal Learning Disorder Syndrome (also referred to as NVLD) is a learning disability that affects both the academic progress and the social and emotional development of children. Some children with hydrocephalus have been identified as having this disability.

NVLD can cause children to have academic, emotional and social issues. Not all children who have NVLD exhibit all of its symptoms. Some children might have the academic issues, but not the social and emotional ones, and vice versa. Also, since the academic problems are not always evident early in life, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnosis NVLD until the middle-to-late elementary school years.

Academic/Learning Characteristics of NVLD

Children with NVLD often have trouble grasping mechanical arithmetic. They can find word problems or math reasoning difficult. They may sometimes be unable to read a math problem and recognize which operation to perform. It is usually extremely hard for children with NVLD to learn more advanced math skills such as algebra, geometry and/or calculus.

Children with NVLD are usually good at word recognition, spelling, and oral reading. However, their reading comprehension skills are weak. A child with NVLD may read a paragraph very well but afterwards, not be able to identify the main point or correctly answer questions about what they just read.
The language skills of children with NVLD vary. Some may have delays in early speech but later on, show rapid progression, and eventually began exhibiting verbosity. They may talk a whole lot, but the content of their conversations may have little value or substance. In comparison to their peers, children with NVLD are more dependent on language when it comes to relating to others, gathering/acquiring information, and/or relieving anxiety.

Children with NVLD’s rote verbal memory capacities and skills can be one of their personal strengths, but they demonstrate low functional language use.

Nonverbal tasks are also generally a challenge for children with NVLD. They often show delays early on in any activity that requires fine motor coordination. Early pencil and paper activities have the tendency to frustrate them extremely. Later on, the quality of their handwriting is usually very poor. They often tend to perform much better verbally than they do nonverbally on formal tasks of cognitive functioning. Any activity that requires interpretation or that requires putting visual information can be very difficult for them. This is especially true if explaining the task verbally and with step-by-step instructions is not a possibility. Verbal activities entailing the solving of more complex problems, or the integration of information from several sources, are especially difficult for children with NVLD to perform. They also often tend to struggle with more common academic activities. Specific tasks, such as answering questions after reading a chapter of a book, or performing on tests or exams where the questions on those tests or exams are worded differently from the words in the whatever study material that were used.

It is often difficult for children with the NVLD to appreciate sarcasm and even humor. They usually cannot understand jokes, or oftentimes, they may interpret the jokes in such a concrete way that all of the humor is completely lost. Sarcasm, which is expressed by purposefully mismatching the message that is spoken, and the tone of the voice and facial expression, requires integration of information from different sensory modalities. Therefore, children with NVLD may have the tendency to interpret the message literally, thus missing altogether the information needed to recognize the sarcasm for what it is.

Adaptive/Social Characteristics of NVLD

Novel situations are predicaments that require generating responses that cannot be practiced and/or anticipated beforehand. These types of situations are usually very difficult and troublesome situations for children with NVLD. They often have the tendency to depend on practiced and/or rote behaviors that might be inappropriate for the specific context. An example of this: if they are taught the proper way introducing themselves to an unfamiliar adult, (i.e. saying “nice to meet you” and/or shaking hands) they might very well use the exact same form of introduction on a group of unfamiliar children their own age. These children might view this behavior as “weird” or “odd.” When their peers do attempt to give them subtle feedback gestures, (i.e.” raising of their eyebrows) the child with NVLD completely misses the information, and therefore they do not ever modify their behavior. This may sometimes cause their peers to walk away from them, or attempt a nonverbal signal of avoiding or ending the conversation, and children with NVLD will usually just continue to pursue the interaction anyway, and continue talking to them, even when the peer turns away.


Children with NVLD desire social interactions and friendships, just like all other children, and they might even intensify their efforts of reaching out, while continuously disregarding any and all repeated rejections. The realization of being rejected might not become understood until they are older. Because of this fact, their confusion and pain continues to increase. They do not have the ability to fully comprehend the multiple and complex social rules of adolescence.

Causes of Nonverbal Learning Disorder Syndrome

No cause for this disorder has been definitely determined, however, it is a known fact that deficits in the functioning of the brain’s right hemisphere do play a significant role. The brain is divided into two hemispheres, one on the left and one on the right. These hemispheres typically complement one another other in the way they function, but each side is more suited for a different type of processing. Children with NVLD have been determined to have deficits in the functioning of their brain’s right hemisphere.


Children with NVLD respond better to descriptive, verbal instruction. Rather than showing them how to perform a specific task, they need to be verbally instructed, step-by-step on how to perform it.

Creating a home environment that is supportive and nurturing will enable your child to feel more secure. In turn, your child will be more likely to be successful. Minimize demands that highlight your child’s weaknesses. Be very specific and clear about what you expect from your child. Carefully observe your child in complex/novel situations in order to recognize and develop an appreciation of their weaknesses and their strengths, and then set your expectations for them accordingly.

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