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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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Greg Renfro on June 13, 2018:

To answer your question Valerie stop trying to fix all your child's so called problems (I say challenges) You never had a slim chance of helping your daughter this way I know this may seem harsh but take it from a 30 year old Guy with NVLD your treating her like she doesn't have normal feeling like other children her age and she does!!!!!! At 13 what kid wanted to have mom come save the day zero atleast from the people I know it would be so imbarressing we would be scared to ever see that person(s) again. So here is how you help treat her like a normal person everyone else is going to her whole life be the person she learns however she can to read mom verbal from exaggerate your non verbal movements for her slowly taking it to back to normal until she can read your non verbal movements. That's right i said it a nvld person reading non verbal communication but it can be done with practice by your daughter randomly after saying something ask your daughter how she thinks you feel then tell her I'm mad upset happy glad irritated don't forget to us very strong body language and she can clearly see your whole body head to toe. I wouldn't suggest telling her you are going to be doing this it could cause a lot off unwanted anxiety. Turn her greatest weekness into something she can atleast say is improving slowly and eventually become better at reading non verbal she will forever love you for your effort. I know your probably lost thinking this guy has no idea the articals say this and doc so and so said this well it's bullshit I'm living proof people with nvld just need you to put a word with a movement. Let verbal gifts help the nonverbal weekness become competent and manageable if I can do it anybody with nvld can to so stop making excuses for us we are already pro's at making excuses for ourselfs no help needed. Really hope this helps sombody with NVLD

Valerie Tremblay on May 11, 2018:

My daughter is 13 and is diagnosed NVLD, ADHD, Anxiety, ODD, and Dyscalcula. Life is a struggle in every aspect of hers and our entire families lives. Cognitively she has struggled since preschool. I knew something was “off” since she was 2. It has taken us until 6th grade for a formal diagnosis of NVLD and now 7th grade for the school to finally admit they don’t know what to do. This has been the most frustrating and agonizing journey I could ever imagine. Socially, I always knew she didn’t perceive things as an average child her age does, and I find myself having to clean up her mess every time I turn around. Whether it be fixing friendships, apologizing to teachers, or actually trying to explain how my daughter is “different” to minimize her behaviors and help people understand, is a nightmare that I face every single day. Every single time I get a call or email from the school I panic wondering what happened now? Only this time was she has got herself into legal trouble, I’ve hit rock bottom. I can’t fix things this time. I can’t walk in and demand they understand her. The way she navigates the world doesn’t matter with the law. I’m sooooo lost. The incredible thing is, I thought I couldn’t handle anymore a month ago, but now things are a million times worse......

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noclaut on September 19, 2014:

NVLD with social and emotional problems has to be classified as a "pervasive developmental disorder", not a learning problem. The definittion of PDD is not so good.

Rhonda D Johnson from Somewhere over the rainbow on May 21, 2012:

As you said above. NVLD is a relatively new diagnosis and yet, as others have commented, it's not a new condition. This means many of the people affected by this condition are already grown. Is there any research on helping those who can not take advantage of early intervention?

Also, you mentioned that the traditional school setting may not be appropriate for those with NVLD. If these children are taken out of society, how will they learn to cope with society once they are out of school. The problems they will face once they graduate will be far different from the ones they face in a controlled environment. Are there efforts being made to help NVLD children cope in a real world, say a mentoring or counseling program to help them deal with real people?

awesome on March 12, 2012:

i have nvld im 12 years old i was diagnosed when i was in grade 5 its really depressing because even everyone around me is annoyed with me imdepressed and very wery bad with social cognition its really sad cause im like left out all the time but if you know someone who has nvld and you know they have bad writinng skills go to scholars choice and get some hand comforters like i don't know how to describe it but it sure helped my writing ive become irresponsible and thats a part of the disorder so get a binder for school that has dividers but not with the rings it really helped me.

ConspiracyTruth on January 10, 2012:

Hmm interesting post. It is unfortunate how few articles there seems to be on this. I suppose my story can serve as a warning to parents. Those of you who have kids you fear may suffer from this.

I am NLVD on the social side of the spectrum. When I was younger, I always thought I was just shy. Always got blamed because I made little eye contact, paddled in school or given detention for things I never did, had very few friends, the whole shebang. As I got older into high school I wanted a relationship and acceptance from girls but could never seem to get near girls I liked without creeping them out with my awful body language. Again, I thought it would get better on its own.

I just turned thirty. I have had nearly fifty first dates and no second dates to date. With a slew of no call backs, a few hurtful comments left in critique of my dating style about being a creep, and a few threats from male friends of girls who I made to feel outright threatened early on paired with over fifteen hundred dollars spent on self help books, CDs, seminars about boosting charisma and selling yourself for success, and college courses on Speech and Debate it has become apparent that I have peaked in how far I will improve. I have seen minimal success and have largely given up on finding that special someone. I have improved a lot, don't get me wrong - in front of groups I can be the life of the party and have talked my way into a huge raise at work. With women though, they tend to notice so much of that non-verbal stuff that it is a constant struggle, literally exhausting, to interact with them in a romantic sense. To keep track of every part of my movement from the way I hold my feet to the how long I make eye contact to what I say and how the conversation moves to ensure I don't dally too long or wear out my welcome. Imagine trying to flex every muscle in your body, simultaneously, while taking an algebra test and you get an idea of how it is for people like me - comprehensively exhausting is the only way to describe it. I feel like I need a nap after talking to girls I am trying to court, one mistake sending me into creeper ville.

To parents reading, treat this early. This only gets worse as you get older and the young can learn easier than the old can. Brains are better built for learning in the earlier years. Use my story as a cautionary tale and realize that it will only get harder and harder if you do nothing. You never grow out of social retardation and the work-arounds and adulthood patch jobs are no substitute for early childhood preventative measures.

The hell of it is I am not even bitter or angry at all. I love people. Always have. Everything about them draws me to them, makes me love them, makes me want to help them where I can even though they baffle and terrify me on so many levels. I love working in soup kitchens and the like where I can. My adolescent fantasies involved meeting someone I could cling to and open up to rather than being a sports hero or famous or rich. Imagine that. A teenage boy daydreaming about being swept off his feet by a princess (in a manner of speaking, not like I actually wanted to be carried - I would probably do the carrying, considering my size), cuddling in front of a fire, protecting and connecting to someone special.

Sorry, started rambling there. Mothers reading, you know how your boys and girls are better than anyone. If your gut tells you something is wrong or different, run with it, is all I am saying.

Karen Halabura on September 19, 2011:

40 official dx 2day ADHD NVLD Developmental Coordination & Math Disability

I have self dx'd Aspergers 4 abt 8yrs until 2day must say There is not much difference to me. I do have Dysthymia and have been diagnosed over a course of the past 10 months from mental health issues basically I had the ADHD and Learning Disabilites dx for 10yrs with extensive testing. I came up with Aspergers when I learned about it searching for information on Autism as my daughter had been dx'd with it. I have not seen much difference between us except that she has low functioning autism. I do agree with Stan DESPERATELY verbal. Having been undiagnosed all my life lead me to suicidal ideation at the beginning of the year. Attempted 3x's hospitalized total 4x's dx'd Borderline Personality Disorder and as dr's got 2 know me in and out patient they saw the difficulties I was able 2 find my testing only after I was released from the last in patient stay given to my therapists and psych at day hospital for therapy. This is where they saw me everyday and came up with my thoughts of autism but they weren't sure and referred me to a child psychiatrist autism specialist in the hospital. Comes down to this dx. I do think awareness needs to be spread equally among children and adults. My hopes in hopefully not becoming a stat or almost stat like I almost did. 2nd hospitalization saved intubated coma 40 hrs pneumonia lucky I lived and I now will tell my story in hopes of avoiding the hurt and pain I was in. You can find me on FB if you want to talk just search for Karen Halabura and AutistasAngeles333 (with or without the 333) Txs 4 your info much appreciated I am kinda getting things gathered up to understand the difference between the 2.

stanwshura on August 01, 2011:

Holy cow! I desperately hope that "the doctor" has educated himself about NVLD since his comment 11 months ago! He not only missed the target, but soared past, over, around, under and in the opposite direction therefrom!

He has some legit points about a COMPLETELY different topic and "subgroup" - nonverbal individuals. And then he shot off from that COMPLETELY WRONG premise and analyzed and observed from there.

I'm not exactly qualified to comment on what subject he DID cover - but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE - SOMEBODY tell me that he and the rest of the world are getting that NVLD is about NEEDING words and having difficulty with the nonverbal, visual-spatial, and executive functioning stuff!!!

His Jungian theory sounds solid, and I'm sure he's well adept at discussing and/or publishing about the Myers Briggs stuff that sprouted from Carl's seed.

But again - completely irrelevant. And the lying/perceptual/whatever skills of "nonverbals" (!!!that's the biggest clue throughout his piece - the use of this word!!!), may be germaine to a subject and population I, frankly, have no interest in studying beyond applications of technology, ABA, NAPPI, and improving my paraprofessional skills in the work that I do.

Anyway, just had to chime in because I felt I HAD to take this opportunity to SCREAM out loud that "NONVERBAL LEARNING DISABILITY IS ABOUT HAVING DIFFICULTY WITH ALL THINGS NONVERBAL!". Many of us, and I dare include yours truly, are keenly and exceptionally adept at word use, precision, and writing.

Make NO mistake about it - we with NVLD are ***DESPERATELY*** verbal!


Tammy on July 28, 2011:

My name is Tammy and during my school years (K-12) I was diagnosed with learning disability, nos, in adulthood it was later diagnosed as non-verbal learning disability. I have a lot of visual memory problems and have extreme difficulty with new situations, transitions, and a lot of social difficulty in the employment world. Work performance, speed, and social politics are very hard to deal with. I am well educated, but cannot work or perform at the level and skills I have prepared for or tried for years to develop and get into specialized fields. I have depression and OCD on top of that and it doesn't make things easier. I wish there were more professionals out there to help and deal with employment things and to work with some of the background I had developed.

jon on June 25, 2011:

this is my biography

Tracey on April 06, 2011:

I have a 14 year old daughter who was diagnosed with NVLD, Inattentive ADD, and OCD. Yes, she has social issues, and yes she is bullied at school, and for sure she will have obstacles and so will her younger brother who doesn't have a label, or has the label of being "normal". When I look at my children I don't see their diabilities I see how wonderful they are, how lucky I am to have them and how I wouldn't change them for a million bucks. As a parent it is a struggle and at times difficult and the best advice I can give is love your children, teach them confidence and self respect, love them and appreicate them for who they are

marion on April 05, 2011:

i have a teenage daughterwho fits the bill ofnvld but was never diagnosed. i just thought she is a tough child.herbiggest obstacle was socially. swhe loved having friends but somehow they were always bullying her off and on. she has suffered such deep pain and hurt. i took her to a social worker in high school who after a few months said that she is fine just her general nature is slightly immature. how i wished she would have realized that my daughter should be tested for this disorder and would have directed me for the right help. not only has my child suffered but all of us as a family.i have definitely learned to be much more patient as a parent but i reallyfeel sorry because i didn't realize she had a disorder.please professionals do your job well so our children don't have to suffer.

Tyler on March 15, 2011:

Do both of your daughters a favor. Don't tell the younger one who is being mean to her older sister that she is "handicapped" its not even really true. NLD makes things more challenging but it is not a handicap really as there is literally no one thing it prevents you to do. That's not a corny inspirational statement just a fact. Remind the younger sister to respect her older sister because she is her sister and because she is older. Reinforce the role of the older sister as the older sister. Don't ask the younger one to pity her, what you will be implicitly saying is that she is basically the older one. Its very difficult to be an older sibling with NLD with a younger one who does better in school is more socially accepted and is given more freedom by your parents, and gets an attitude like I'm actually younger but my older siblings retarded so I am basically the older brother/sister.

Michelle B on February 02, 2011:

I have a daughter who was diagnosed with NvLD after leaving my abusive ex. All 3 of my kids have different issues because of the background. My two oldest are on medication for problems but now I face I think the hardest one of all. My youngest has NO compassion or empathy or somewhat no kindness toward her sister who had NvLD. I am at a loss. My heart hurts everyday that I see my daughter treat or act meanly to her sister. What can I do? Has anyone ever had this problem of a sibling not reacting the way "I think she should be acting" toward her sister? I will take any suggestions that might help me to help my daughter understand that having a "Somewhat handicapped" sibling/child is hard on all the family and we all have to treat her with kindness!!My e-mail is

Cwan on January 07, 2011:

As a professional and a parent of a child who was diagnosed in High School now in her 3rd year at a Division I University we are continuing to learn and make discoveries regarding this deficit. There is much that is known and not known. Athough there are certain markers these individuals need always to be viewed as that INDIVIDUALS.

It took 5 challenging years from: my parental referral,inadequate evaluation by a suburban school psychologist,request for an Independent Educational Evaluation of a notable audiologist and Psychology Phd knowledgeable in this area, documentation of a clinically experienced Speech-Language Pathologist in that surburban school,to retention of an attorney who wrote texts on educational law, before services were provided.

My daughter did not fit the typical "profile" of a person with NvLD. She was an honor student with language, reading, writing, and spelling skills in the high average to above average range. On the surface she presented as not particularly socially ackward. Math was another story. Art a nightmare. Statewide math proficiency tests were never passed. Disorganization, short term memory and Visual-spatial issues were evident. Teachers often voiced "Not putting forth best effort".