What is a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD or NLD)?
In general, NVLD is characterized by the discrepancy between an individual’s verbal (area of strength) and nonverbal (area of weakness) reasoning abilities. Unlike ADHD or a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD), NVLD is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition (DSM-5). However, it provides a framework to explain areas of strength and weakness to better understand why an individual may be struggling academically, socially, emotionally, or behaviorally.
Areas of Strength
When individuals present with a NVLD, they often demonstrate relative strengths in the following areas:
- Simple, repetitive motor movements
- Learning and recall of rote, verbal material (verbal memory)
- Single word reading and reading decoding skills
- Verbal and auditory attention
Areas of Weakness:
In contrast, those with NVLD present with weaknesses in the following areas:
- Visual perception, visual-spatial organization, and visuo-construction skills
- Complex motor skills
- Learning of novel information and generalizing new learning
- Visual spatial learning and memory
- Written expression
- Reading comprehension/Higher order comprehension and reasoning
- Visual and tactile attention
- Aspects of social, emotional, and behavioral functioning (i.e., social skill deficits, anxiety, depression, emotional competence, activity level, executive dysfunction, etc.)
How Can an Evaluation Be Used to Diagnosis an NVLD?
To diagnosis NVLD, a comprehensive evaluation by a psychologist is conducted to determine areas of strength and weakness. Following the administration and scoring of the assessment measures outlined below, the psychologist will identify if the individual’s cognitive profile is consistent with NVLD. Diagnosis can be completed through a psychological or neuropsychological evaluation and often consists of the following areas being assessed:
- Overall intellectual/cognitive abilities – Assessment of overall level of functioning (i.e., IQ) is often the first step to identify if there is a discrepancy between an individual’s verbal and nonverbal skills.
- Verbal and nonverbal learning and memory – A discrepancy between an individual’s recall of verbally presented material (particularly rote verbal) is expected to be a strength in comparison to nonverbal/visual spatial learning and memory. This is assessed through list learning and presentation of verbal information with context (i.e., a story).
- Language – Assessment of language abilities will further identify the discrepancy between verbal versus nonverbal skills and also provide detailed information regarding retrieval of known facts, verbal fluency, complex language, etc.
- Attention/executive functioning – Multiple aspects of attention are assessed (i.e., sustained, divided, visual, and auditory attention) as well as executive functions (i.e., planning and organization, cognitive flexibility and shifting, and initiation).
- Visual spatial skills – Assessment of visual spatial skills is necessary to identify the discrepancy between one’s verbal and nonverbal skills. Measures to assess one’s visual perception, spatial or visuospatial perception, and visuo-constructive skills are administered.
- Fine motor skills – Tasks of simple and complex motor skills are administered.
- Academic skills – Reading, mathematic, and writing assessments are completed, as these domains not only provide diagnostic information but also areas of school-based intervention.
- Social, emotional, and behavioral functioning – These areas are often assessed through interview as well as rating scales (caregiver, teacher, and self-report) to provide additional information regarding an individual’s functioning at home, school, and the community.
- Adaptive functioning – Ratings of adaptive, or independent living, skills provide information regarding the impact areas that cognitive weakness may be having on the client’s daily life.
Following the Evaluation
Following the comprehensive psychological or neuropsychological evaluation, a feedback session is held to go over the results as well as describe the learning profile of those with NVLD. This includes the provision of a written report. Recommendations for school, home, and social interactions are provided at that time.
Resources for NVLD
- Tips for an educational plan: http://www.ldonline.org/article/Developing_an_Educational_Plan_for_the_Student_with_NLD
- Books about NVLD from the NVLD Project: https://nvld.org/books-nvld/
- Accommodations and recommendation resources for those with NFLD: