The Social Implications of Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)
Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) is a developmental disorder that is rapidly becoming recognized as a problem that develops in childhood and worsens with age. There are many different aspects to NVLD but the basic problem with this disorder is that people who have it find it difficult to interpret the nonverbal cues that we typically use in social situations to make judgments about how to behave with others. This failure leads to difficulty with interpersonal relationships and problems within social settings. Ultimately, NVLD can cause children to grow into depressed/anxious young adults who are incapable of properly functioning in our social world.
What Is Non-Verbal Learning Disorder?
This is a relatively newly-defined learning disorder that is characterized by issues in the nonverbal learning center of the brain. These issues can affect a variety of different functions including everything from the ability to do math well to basic coordination and motor skills. One of the most damaging aspects of the disorder, though, is the fact that it causes the individual to be mostly incapable of recognizing nonverbal social cues. These are the cues that we rely on to tell us how to act in a given situation. For example, we read nonverbal cues to tell us that someone is getting angry with us so that we can respond appropriately to them.
What a Non-Verbal Learning Disorder Looks Like
NVLD is something that develops in early childhood and is likely to continue to worsen over time. However, it looks very different on the outside between younger and older years. When the child is young, many of the symptoms of NVLD will be physical. Poor motor skills, a lack of balance and coordination, and any sort of sensual sensitivity (such as sensitivity to loud sounds or certain tastes) are signs of NVLD. Behavioral signs include acting out in a manner similar to a child who has ADHD or ODD.
As the child enters school, it becomes more apparent that there are also going to be problems with learning that stem from NVLD. The child with this condition will have trouble with spatial relations and visual recall which will become apparent when doing certain tasks in a classroom setting. Mathematics will be another area of difficulty.
When the child enters pre-adolescence ("the tweens") the outward signs of NVLD will begin to look a lot different. In most cases, the child will have learned to compensate a lot for the physical problems and may have less trouble with balance and coordination. Schoolwork will continue to suffer and behavior problems may continue. However there will also be a definitive shift in demeanor as the child begins to internalize the problems that he or she is dealing with.
Essentially what happens during this period is that the child becomes more aware of the fact that there is a disconnect in his ability to socialize with peers. This will lead to being ostracized from peer groups. This ultimately leads to issues with self-esteem and frustration with social situations. As the child gets older and these problems continue, the child is likely to withdraw from social settings. He will become anxious about being in social situations (including not wanting to go to school anymore) and will likely become depressed as a result of internalizing these feelings. Throughout the school years and on into early adulthood, the child with NVLD is likely to be mostly withdrawn although can be prone to outbursts of inappropriate behavior caused by social isolation and frustration.
Social Implications of NVLD
As you can see, the most devastating problems associated with NVLD are the social problems. Spatial relations, sensory sensitivity in school and difficulty with motor skills are all frustrating but they typically do not cause the severe emotional damage that can be caused when a child is socially isolated. The child with NVLD is highly likely to be socially isolated because of the fact that he is simply incapable of reading the social cues that others are naturally sending out.
For example, in the case mentioned above, a child would not realize that someone was angry with him. This could cause him to enter dangerous situations because he lacks the awareness that there is danger coming from the person that is angry with them. Likewise, the child will be unable to tell where he is and is not welcome, whether jokes are being received appropriately and generally just won't respond well to social interaction.
This can become a more serious problem as the children enters the tweens and teens. There are two reasons for this. The first is that peer socialization is highly important to a child's development at this time. The lack of peer socialization that occurs for the child with NVLD will be a problem that can cause other stunts in development that will ultimately have to be addressed through therapy. The second reason that this age is a problem is because tweens and teens have to make a series of judgments throughout the course of each day; teens without the ability to understand social cues are going to be more prone to making bad judgments in situations involved such things as drugs, sex and violence.
Intervention for NVLD
In order to minimize the problems that the child is having as a result of being a child with NVLD, it is important to engage in intervention from as early of an age as possible. There are two different problems that will need to be addressed in parenting a child with NVLD. The first is the fact that the traditional school setting is going to be difficult for the child and therefore may not be appropriate for the child. And the second is the social situation. Unfortunately, many parents are so focused on getting their NVLD child educated that a lack of attention is paid to the very serious situation of social problems that arise for the child with NVLD. There are psychological and therapeutic methods that can be used to improve the social skills of the NVLD child starting from a very early age so it is important for the child to have access to a therapist that can provide this assistance.