Nonverbal Learning Disabilities: A Distinct Group Within Our Population

This article is made so parents, teachers, professionals and other people can be a step closer to understanding and recognizing this not so common syndrome known as nonverbal learning disability (NLD).

The main characteristics of individuals that have this problem are inferior verbal skills compared to the nonverbal ones. These individuals usually have average, or often above average visual-spatial abilities and nonverbal skills. When being faced with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale test, children with this disorder have shown similar results. Most of them have a great variation between their Verbal and Performance IQ. Their low Verbal IQ results display a vast contrast compared to their exceptional or even extraordinary results. This big difference eventually leads to problems with writing, reading, spelling and language usage, since people with this disorder can’t comprehend verbal information effectively without much needed verbal strengths to prosper in these fields. Even though this kind of disability is more unlikely to occur than the verbal one, it appears with bigger obstacles for individual to overcome. Not only is it harder to reduce negative effects of this symptom, it is much harder to notice it and react properly.

Having lower performance IQ persons that have NLD experience major issues with motor functions and space movements. They are usually awkward while moving through space and they tend to perceptually misinterpret information, failing to react accordingly. When it comes to reading facial expressions of other people or interpreting body language, these individuals are totally clueless. Being unable to read subtle signs from other people, individuals with NLD face rejection and social awkwardness. This ultimately leads to their social rejection completely and they are incapable of making social contacts and connections with other people. Persons with NLD have rich and fluent language, but don’t really say much. If you listen to them carefully they tend to miss the point in the conversation; they can’t see the big picture, focusing only on concrete meaning of the word. They have a big problem understanding cause-effect connections and can’t recognize them or use them properly in a conversation.

Individuals with NLD have a serious condition. Unlike people with verbal learning disorder that can engage in physical or social activities, people with NLD can’t interact with other people in any way. They have motor difficulties and can’t maintain a normal conversation due the lack of information they just can’t process. Since so many functions are being affected by this symptom, these individuals need help to connect with others in any way.

Finding a way to connect with others by themselves is the main challenge for these individuals. In the school, or at home, they may show bad organizational skills and negligence, but not because they have attention deficit disorder. Their inability to fully comprehend information and interact with others can lead to their indifference to commit to things they don’t fully understand. They can be mistaken to have primary behavior problem or they can be seen as slower to cope with new information, clinging to their familiar routine.

As the study showed recently at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Child Development Clinic, teachers were asked to identify the NLD to a certain degree and distinguish it from attention deficit. This study was the first big step to recognizing these individuals without medical or clinical definition, based only on a feeling and careful observation of the teachers. They were asked to explain what signs of NLD did they notice and how can they differentiate it from regular attention deficit, leading to a clearer insight on how they perceive this symptom.

Results of this study were encouraging considering there were differences between these two similar groups. Teachers have noticed that both of these groups have more language problems than their average achieving classmates, but they have very similar language difficulties. They have also pointed out that both of these groups were viewed as having more attention deficit, but in a different way. Children with NLD were perceived as quiet and reserved, mostly having problems to interact or socially engage with other children, while those with attention deficit also had problems in social interactions, but different nature. They were viewed as loud and troublemakers, having difficulties in social interaction and usually having conflicts with other children, like fighting and disrupting the class. This research study was very successful. It shows that teachers can distinguish children with NLD and children with attention and behavioral problems.

This study just scratches the surface, teachers need to be aware of the NLD and how to stay alert and spot these symptoms. They must not generalize above mentioned symptoms, since they are very similar. Only thing that separates one symptom from another is subtle difference that must not be overlooked or neglected. We hope that there will be more studies like this one, in order to raise the awareness of teachers and other people about NLD. This is a serious disorder that needs a lot of attention so children with NLD need a lot of help. When teachers notice NLD in some of the children they need to take actions and to react accordingly, so they can socially interact in the class and not feel left out. There are solutions to their problem; they are just a matter of practice and hard work. The main thing is for the teachers to make adequate teaching plan for those kids, include them in activities they will understand and explaining to them tasks that they have trouble figuring out.

We hope this article will help teachers distinguish individuals with NLD and make appropriate changes for these children to have much needed attention they deserve , even help them learn new social skills that they can use later in life to achieve their goals and desires.

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