What are nonverbal learning disability symptoms?
When discussing learning difficulties, we usually talk about dyslexia, dyscalculia or dysgraphia. However, there is another important difficulty, known as nonverbal learning disability or visual-spatial learning disorder.
Nonverbal disability symptoms may vary, but the main characteristic of this neurological state is a pronounced contrast between the exhibited verbal abilities and the considerable difficulties when it comes to visual-spatial information processing. Research indicates that there is a connection between damage to the right hemisphere of the brain and NLD.
Persons with this condition may experience a number of problems regarding the learning process itself, as well as social and professional difficulties regarding organization, attention, motor skills and nonverbal communication.
Do we know enough about nonverbal learning disability?
What makes this disability especially delicate is the fact that it is not easy to pinpoint using a standard symptoms test. In fact, many professionals researching this problem agree only on the following – NLD exists.
But when it comes to the classification and identification of this condition – i.e., listing the symptoms it involves and determining whether it can be classified as a separate disorder, the agreement ceases. Some claim that this condition is a part of the autism spectrum, while some claim that the actual problem is ADHD.
This lack of agreement among the experts is one of the reasons why NLD is hard to identify and often fails to receive due attention. What are nonverbal learning disability symptoms, then?
Nonverbal learning disability checklist
Individuals with this disorder often have above-average verbal skills, but on the other hand, they experience unexpected difficulties when it comes to visual-spatial information, which is why it is thought that there is a certain damage to nonverbal abilities.
Although there are several types of learning and each child leans towards one of them as a preferred method of knowledge acquisition, the child is usually able to understand and receive information through other, less preferred learning types. In the case of NLD, this is considerably harder. Therefore, this condition should not be mistaken for preference for the verbal type of learning.
There is no unique symptom checker for NLD, but persons with this condition may have problems with the following:
- fine motor skills (holding a pen, which affects writing, coloring, the use of scissors)
- complex motor skills (riding a bicycle, hitting and catching a ball)
- spatial disorientation (clumsiness, bumping into people)
- organization and planning (problems with prioritization and task completion, inability to multitask)
- focus (inability to maintain attention and concentration)
- visuospatial memory (difficulties with memorizing spaces and visual processing of information)
- socioemotional skills (trouble understanding social interactions, perceiving social cues, reading attitudes from facial expressions, posture, timbre and tone of voice, understanding jokes)
- reading diagrams, maps
- putting puzzles together
- telling time on an analog watch
- mathematics (trouble solving math problems and understanding geometry)
- handwriting issues
NLD is often confused with ADHD
NLD symptoms often match ADHD symptoms. Perhaps this is the reason why NLD is not as much of a topic in its own right as it should be: it is often confused with ADHD. Some of their common symptoms are:
- poor social skills
- learning difficulties
- lack of attention
- problems with staying focused
- excessive talkativeness
In any case, in order to understand a symptom as a sign of the corresponding disorder, we need to understand its cause. A child with ADHD who cannot sit still and bumps into people behaves that way because of hyperactivity. A child with NLD, on the other hand, might do the same, but because they have a problem with maintaining balance and they are clumsy due to damage to motor skills.
Another characteristic is that while children with ADHD usually respond well to treatment with medication, individuals affected by NLD usually do not respond to this sort of therapy.
NLD in children
NLD used to be considered rare; nowadays, it is suspected that it occurs as often as dyslexia. Boys and girls are equally susceptible to this condition. Many children with this condition were initially misdiagnosed with ADHD. Simply, it’s easy to confuse the signs.
It is not easy to determine this condition in children, as they are in the process of adopting words and developing their motor skills. NLD children usually have difficulties with tasks that require eye-hand coordination, such as coloring inside the lines and using scissors.
Also, problem solving can be a real challenge if it involves abstract thinking and spatio-visual information. On the other hand, it should come as no surprise if these children achieve extraordinary results in reading, spelling, or memorizing verbal content.
As the child grows and learning turns increasingly complex and abstract, and rote learning becomes one of the more important ways of adopting the required knowledge, there can be a variety of difficulties with following the curriculum, as well as with time management and the organization of the child’s obligations.
Students with NLD show a number of difficulties when it comes to organizing information into a coherent whole, the application of knowledge to different situations, prediction and logical organization, which is why their education suffers.
Helping children with NLD
When we talk about communication, we usually think of words and verbal information. However, the truth is that most communication takes place through nonverbal channels such as facial expressions, posture, tone of voice. This is why people with NLD can have considerable issues with communication: namely, anything that has not been expressed verbally is prone to being missed or misinterpreted.
Simply put, their nonverbal communication ability is limited. This is why one of the symptoms of this condition is the need to verbalize things in order to understand them, where things are thought about in literal terms, while figurative meaning is difficult to grasp.
Just like all children with learning disabilities, it is important that children with NLD should be helped. However, there is a problem. NLD is hard to diagnose, as it has still not been defined as a separate disorder with unambiguous symptoms.
The manifestation of the disorder can vary from one child to another. Unlike some other disorders, NLD in children does not respond to medication. However, there are other ways to help persons with this disorder. NLD treatment includes:
- Occupational therapist whose careful work can help the child improve their fine and complex motor skills and thereby facilitate child development
- Groups dedicated to social skills and support, where the child learns various friendships activities, such as how to greet a friend or a family member and how to greet a stranger, how to understand teasing, jokes, and other social situations
- Using a planner helps persons with this disorder organize their time
Learning disabilities in children are conditions that should be seen as a challenge, not as an insurmountable obstacle. If everyone involved approaches them seriously – from parents through teachers to therapists, the results can often be remarkable and help the child become happy, successful and accomplished.