What is Nonverbal Learning Disorder (Signs of NVLD)

A diverse group of three young students engaging in conversation, with a girl in a denim overall using genstures with her hands while explaining something to her peers, one of whom is smiling back at her. A text overlay states 'What is Nonverbal Learning Disorder (Signs of NVLD)' above the website address SPECIALEDRESOURCE.COM on a background with blurred classroom elements

When Olivia’s parents noticed her struggle to read people’s faces and interpret their gestures, they initially thought she was shy. She often seemed lost in group activities at school, missing cues that her peers responded to effortlessly. 

Her challenges didn’t stop there. They also included: 

  • Following multi-step instructions 
  • Physical coordination during gym class 

Concerned, Olivia’s parents consulted her teacher, who suggested that these could be signs of Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). They learned that NVLD involves various difficulties affecting every aspect of a child’s life. Eager to support their daughter, they sought specialized educational strategies tailored for children with NVLD.


Olivia began progressing as they started implementing these strategies at home and coordinating with her school. Her confidence grew as she learned in an environment that addressed her specific learning needs, highlighting the crucial role of targeted support in helping children with NVLD thrive.


Nonverbal Learning Disorder is still not as widely recognized as other learning disabilities, but awareness is growing. Understanding and identifying the signs early can make a significant difference in the educational and social development of children with NVLD, just as it did for Olivia.

What is a Nonverbal Learning Disorder?

Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by significant difficulties recognizing and processing nonverbal cues and challenges in visual-spatial reasoning. 

Want One-On-One Expert Help?!



Find A Tutor TODAY!

Children with NVLD typically exhibit strong verbal skills but struggle to interpret gestures, facial expressions, and other forms of non-verbal communication.


Key Challenges Associated with NVLD

Here are a few key challenges you may notice in your child. 

– Difficulty Interpreting Nonverbal Cues:

Children with NVLD often struggle to understand body language and facial expressions. This can lead to misunderstandings in social interactions, as they may not pick up on subtle cues that indicate emotions or reactions from others.


– Challenges with Visual-Spatial Tasks:

Children may face difficulties with tasks that require visual-spatial reasoning, such as: 

  • Navigating new environments
  • Organizing physical spaces
  • Dealing with geometric shapes 

This aspect of NVLD can make everyday tasks and learning certain academic subjects particularly challenging.


– Adapting to New Situations:

Due to their struggles with visual-spatial tasks and interpreting nonverbal cues, children with NVLD often find it overwhelming to adjust to new situations. This can affect their ability to transition smoothly in social or educational settings.

– Contrast with Strong Verbal Skills:

Despite their challenges with nonverbal communication, many children with NVLD have well-developed verbal abilities. They often excel in areas that rely on verbal comprehension and expression, such as: 

  • Reading
  • Memorizing facts
  • Engaging in detailed conversations

This combination of strong verbal skills alongside significant nonverbal communication challenges marks a distinctive profile for a child with NVLD. This can often lead to unique educational and social needs for the affected child.


Signs and Symptoms of NVLD

– Difficulties in Reading Nonverbal Communications:

Children with NVLD often misinterpret or completely miss nonverbal signals such as: 

  • Facial expressions
  • Body language
  • Tone of voice

This can result in awkward social interactions or misunderstandings.


– Visual-Spatial Challenges:

These children may struggle to visualize and understand geometric shapes, affecting their ability to engage in activities that require spatial awareness, such as: 

  • Drawing
  • Building
  • Solving puzzles

– Navigating New Places:

They often find it challenging to navigate unfamiliar environments, which can make new or complex routes particularly stressful.


Executive Functioning Difficulties:

NVLD can impact a child’s ability to plan effectively or organize tasks and activities. They might struggle with sequencing steps needed to complete a project or maintaining an organized approach to schoolwork and personal responsibilities.

These symptoms highlight the multifaceted nature of NVLD, which affects various aspects of a child’s daily life, from social interactions to academic performance and personal organization.

Diagnosing a Nonverbal Learning Disorder

– The Absence of NVLD in DSM-5

Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) is not currently recognized as a specific condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). 

This absence has significant implications for diagnosis, as it can complicate healthcare professionals’ ability to formally identify and label these challenges as NVLD. 

Without a clear category in the DSM-5, obtaining support through insurance or educational services that rely on these diagnostic codes can be more challenging for parents and caregivers.


– How to Get an NVLD Diagnosis

Despite NVLD’s omission from the DSM-5, professionals often diagnose the disorder by observing symptoms that overlap with those of other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 

The diagnostic process typically involves a comprehensive assessment that includes the following:

  • A detailed history of the child’s development from parents
  • Observations of the child’s behavior
  • Neuropsychological testing to assess various cognitive functions, including verbal skills, visual-spatial ability, motor skills, and social cognition

Professionals may use the similarities and differences between NVLD and other disorders to guide their evaluation. 

For example, like children with ASD, children with NVLD might struggle with social cues and nuances. However, unlike ASD, NVLD children typically do not exhibit restrictive or repetitive patterns of behavior. 

Comparing these differences helps clinicians make more informed decisions about the presence of NVLD.


– Importance of Early Recognition

Early recognition and diagnosis of NVLD are crucial as they open the door to targeted interventions that can significantly improve the child’s development and quality of life. Early intervention can help address specific challenges related to academic achievements, social interactions, and daily living skills before they lead to more severe outcomes. 

Recognizing NVLD early allows parents, educators, and therapists to implement strategies that cater specifically to the child’s strengths and weaknesses. These might include using more verbal instructions and avoiding reliance on visual cues that the child might not interpret correctly.

By understanding and addressing NVLD from a young age, children can receive the support they need to navigate their educational path and social landscapes more effectively, ultimately leading to better long-term outcomes in personal and professional spheres.


– Developing a Treatment Plan:

Based on the diagnosis, healthcare professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and occupational therapists, collaborate to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses the child’s specific needs. This plan might involve direct interventions, like therapy, and recommendations for school accommodations.


– Monitoring Progress:

Regular follow-ups are important to assess the treatment plan’s effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. This ongoing monitoring helps ensure that the child progresses and that any new challenges are promptly addressed.


– Education and Support for Families:

Educating families about NVLD is vital. Healthcare providers can offer resources, support groups, and guidance on assisting their children at home and in school. They can also help families navigate the educational and medical systems to get the accommodations and services their children need.


Implementing these therapeutic interventions can significantly improve the quality of life for children with NVLD. For example, occupational therapy can enhance a child’s ability to perform school-related tasks independently, while cognitive-behavioral therapy can reduce social anxiety, leading to better interactions and relationships. Medications, when used, can help manage additional symptoms, contributing to overall stability and well-being.



Navigating Social Challenges

Children with Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) face unique social challenges due to difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues.

These challenges can lead to frequent misunderstandings and social isolation because they often overlook the subtleties of social interaction that come naturally to others. 

For example, a child with NVLD might not understand the nonverbal signs that a conversation has ended or may miss cues indicating their friend is upset or joking.


Practical Tips for Parents

Helping children with NVLD navigate their social world more effectively is crucial for their emotional and social developmentHere are few practical ways parents can support their children:

– Explicit Teaching of Social Rules:

Suppose your child struggles to understand personal space. In that case, you might explain the concept explicitly and practice it together using visual aids like tape on the floor to denote appropriate distances in various social scenarios.

– Role-Playing and Social Stories:

Use role-playing scenarios to practice everyday social interactions, such as: 

  • How to start a conversation
  • Ask for help at school
  • Join a game at recess

Social stories can also help explain more complex social situations, such as attending a birthday party or dealing with a disagreement.

– Utilizing Video Modelling:

Showing videos that model positive social interactions can be beneficial. Videos can help illustrate how to interpret gestures and facial expressions, providing a clear visual guide for children.

– Building on Interests:

Encourage social interactions around your child’s interests. For instance, if your child loves books, joining a book club can provide a structured setting where social cues are more straightforward and predictable.

– Social Skills Groups:

Enrolling your child in a social skills training group like ours can allow them to practice interactions in a controlled, supportive environment. These groups often use games and exercises designed to enhance their understanding of nonverbal communication.

– Regular Feedback:

Offer gentle, constructive feedback after social interactions. Discuss what went well and what could be improved, focusing on specific behaviors rather than generalities.

Improving social skills can lead to better peer relationships and increased self-esteem. 

Children who learn to interpret and respond to social cues more effectively often experience decreased social anxiety and increased social engagement. 

For instance, a child who learns to recognize that a peer is interested in discussing a favorite topic may find it easier to make friends and participate in group activities.

By providing these targeted supports, parents can help their children with NVLD build the necessary skills to navigate social complexities, ultimately leading to richer, more fulfilling social interactions.

Medical and Therapeutic Interventions

Effective management of Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) often involves a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating various therapeutic methods to address the different aspects of the disorder. 

Here are some of the key interventions:

– Occupational Therapy (OT):

Children with NVLD can greatly benefit from occupational therapy as it helps improve motor coordination, fine motor skills, and visual-spatial integration. For instance, an occupational therapist might work with a child on handwriting skills or organizing their physical space, which are common challenges for those with NVLD.

– Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help address the anxiety and social perception issues frequently associated with NVLD. CBT aims to modify the thought patterns that lead to emotional distress and to teach practical skills for handling social situations. For example, a therapist might help a child with NVLD develop strategies to cope with anxiety during unexpected social changes.

– Social Skills Therapy: 

Given the challenges children with NVLD face in interpreting nonverbal cues, social skills therapy is essential. This therapy focuses on teaching children how to read facial expressions, body language, and the unspoken aspects of communication. 

By improving these skills, children can better navigate social interactions, reduce misunderstandings, and enhance their ability to make and maintain friendships.

– Medications:

While there are no medications that specifically treat NVLD, healthcare providers might prescribe medications to address co-occurring symptoms or related conditions, such as ADHD or anxiety, which can overlap with or exacerbate the challenges faced by individuals with NVLD.


The Role of Special Education in Supporting Children with NVLD

Special education is critical in supporting children with NVLD by providing tailored educational strategies that address their unique learning needs. 

– Tailoring Educational Approaches: 

Breaking down complex concepts into smaller, manageable parts can help children with NVLD better understand and process information. 

Emphasizing verbal instructions and sequential steps can aid learning, as children with NVLD typically have strong verbal skills.

Focusing on these strengths, rather than their visual-spatial weaknesses, allows for more effective learning and engagement.


– Utilizing Strengths: 

Incorporating activities that leverage the child’s verbal abilities, such as storytelling, reading, and discussions, can enhance their learning experience. 

This approach builds on their existing skills and boosts confidence and participation in classroom activities.


– Individualized Education Plans (IEPs): 

These plans are tailored to each student’s specific educational needs, strengths, and weaknesses. For a child with NVLD, an IEP might include modifications such as verbal instructions rather than written ones or graphic organizers to help with visual-spatial challenges.


– Self-Contained Classrooms: 

Self-contained classrooms provide a space where children can receive more intensive support in a smaller group setting, allowing for direct instruction in areas of difficulty, such as understanding nonverbal cues or mastering spatial concepts.

– Integration of Assistive Technology

Assistive technology can be a valuable aid for children with NVLD. For example, software that organizes tasks into sequential steps can help these students manage their assignments more effectively. Other tools might include programs that visually map out concepts to help them understand spatial relationships.

– Visual Supports: 

Although children with NVLD struggle with visual-spatial tasks, specific visual supports, like clear and simple diagrams, can help them better understand complex information. These supports provide structure and reduce the cognitive load of visual information processing.

– Skill-Building Activities: 

Special education often incorporates specific activities designed to build social and organizational skills, which are areas of challenge for children with NVLD. These might include group projects encouraging social interaction or games requiring turn-taking and rule-following.

– Team Approach: 

Effective special education for children with NVLD involves collaboration among a multidisciplinary team, including special education teachers, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, psychologists, and you the parent. 

This team works together to ensure that educational strategies are comprehensive and cohesive, addressing all child development aspects.

Empowerment Through Understanding

Understanding NVLD is a pivotal first step in the journey of empowerment for both the child and their support network. 

It is essential to accept that this learning disorder presents unique challenges and unique strengths. As parents, educators, and clinicians deepen their understanding of NVLD, they become better equipped to provide the necessary support. 

Families and educators must acknowledge the diagnosis and embrace the child’s unique way of seeing the world. This acceptance fosters an inclusive environment where the child feels valued and understood, reducing stigma and building self-esteem.

Children who are understood and supported appropriately can thrive in school and in their personal lives. 

For example, a child who receives early and tailored interventions is more likely to develop the skills needed to succeed in school and navigate social relationships effectively. Success stories abound where children with NVLD, once supported, have excelled in areas that play to their verbal strengths, such as literature, history, and the arts.

Empowerment through understanding means that every child with NVLD has the opportunity to achieve their full potential, overcoming challenges with the support of a knowledgeable and compassionate community.


Next Steps

As you navigate the challenges of Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD), recognizing the condition early and actively seeking support are critical first steps. Connecting with professionals who specialize in NVLD is vital to secure targeted interventions tailored to your child’s needs. 

Work closely with your child’s educators to adjust teaching methods and classroom settings, enhancing their learning and social integration.

Adapt your daily routines and social interactions to support your child’s unique strengths and challenges. Leverage resources such as support groups, special education services, and therapeutic interventions to equip both you and your child with the tools needed to manage NVLD effectively. 

These concerted efforts will help lay a solid foundation for your child’s success academically, socially, and personally.


Additional Resources

You may want to check out these additional resources for parents: 


We offer one-on-one special education tutoring and Free IEP services that can be done from anywhere you are! Why? Our special education experts conduct their sessions online!

Get started with a free consultation!


A group of three young diverse students engaging in conversation, with a girl in a denim overall using genstures with her hands while explaining something to her peers, one of whom is smiling back at her. A text above states 'What is Nonverbal Learning Disorder (Signs of NVLD)' with the website address SPECIALEDRESOURCE.COM in the left corner on a background with blurred classroom elements
Is your child struggling with social cues? Here’s how to identify and support a nonverbal learning disorder in kids and teens- signs of NVLD.

Picture of Shannah Holt

Shannah Holt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

blog form headline-2 special ed resources