Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NLD)

“There is no question that most scholastic accomplishments are measured and defined through language-based communication. Yet, it has been found that more than 65% of all communication is actually conveyed nonverbally..”
We are all familiar with “non-verbal communication”, but educators tend to ignore evidence of non-verbal deficiencies in student. Or worse, they classify students with non-verbal disabilities as “behaviour problems”.

The NLD syndrome reveals itself in impaired abilities to recognise the visual-spatial field, adapt to new or novel situations, and/or accurately read nonverbal signals and cues.

A pupil with NLD generally presents deviations in three broad aspects of development: (Rourke, 1989) :

motor co-ordination, including fine graphomotor skills

visual spatial organisation, including faulty spatial perceptions and difficulties with spatial relations

social, including lack of ability to comprehend non-verbal communication, deficits in social judgement and social interaction.

Assets include:

Early speech and vocabulary development
Remarkable rote memory skills
Attention to detail
Early development of reading skills
Good verbal ability
Strong auditory attention
Good phonetic analysis

NLD Academic Profile


Good memory for sounds, words and phrases
Achieve satisfactory levels of reading, but
read with little intonation or punctuation


Achieve satisfactory spelling level, but
95% of their mistakes will be with visually based spellings – they write as they sound

Reading Comprehension:

Remains a problem as considered to be a new information
Reading between the lines to understand the full meaning is a problem


Difficulty visualising a problem
Unable to create a concrete representation from numbers
Hard to position multi-digits numbers
Difficulty with abstract exercise
Problems applying known rules
Confusion with mathematical signs
Difficulty with reading graphs, maps and charts
Difficulty with maths based survival skills-time, money and measurements

Social Skills:

Difficulty understanding non-verbal cues
Difficulty reading body language
Difficulty reading facial expressions/voice tone
Difficulty understanding affective intonation
Difficulty dealing with negative feedback
Tendency for social withdrawal and isolation
Misread social situations leads to wrong response
Lack of adaptability – poor response to new circumstances
Increased risk for internalising anxiety
Low self-esteem

Treatment of NLD

Both diagnosis and treatment are at very early stages.
Beause of variation in levels – general advice hard to give

Focal points:

Know what they can and cannot do
Make most of strength and work on weaknesses
Observe child in new situation – not make opinion on what the child says
If diagnosed early in development – stimulate deficient areas
If diagnosed at later stages – emphasise compensation strategies

Treatment Strategies

In class:

Few visual stimuli
Verbal labels
Verbal training in planning and organising
Permanent seating place
Another child as a partner
First talk then work
Check that the child understands
Training and repetition
Avoid extensive writing
Emphasise quality not quantity
Allow extra time to get to places
Give verbal signals to navigate through space
Continually assess understanding of spatial and directional concepts


Teach letter identification
Give form to text
Use ruler
Mark beginning of text

Spelling :

Rhymes and songs
Plenty of practice

Reading Comprehension :

Ask Qs from simple to complex
Compare with child’s experiences


Read numbers aloud
Choose manageable material
Use computer and headphones
Verbal explanations for graphs

Writing: (hard because requires both hemispheres)

Use wider handwriting style
Emphasize starting point
Do not change any mastered legible writing
Do not ask to copy from one sheet to the other
Tape recorder/computers

Motor co-ordination:

Work on separately
Brain Gym
Occupational and/or Physiotherapy


Verbal labels to all communication aspects
Write/say/repeat social rules
Mute TV exercise
Prepare for new situations to avoid frustration
Role models as examples
Training of “seeing it from other’s point of view”
Home is safest place to learn compensation strategies
Base reaction on what child does not what he says
Clearly state expectations
Language based therapy/Cognitive Therapy
Logical explanations for change