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What is non-verbal learning disorder?

Non-verbal learning disorder is a learning disability that causes kids to have trouble recognizing and understanding patterns in facial expressions, body language, and other kinds of non-verbal communication. The disorder is sometimes called NVLD or NLD. Kids with NVLD are often good with words but struggle in social situations. They may also have problems with physical coordination, problem-solving, and organizing their thoughts. 

Not all experts recognize NVLD as a formal disorder. Its symptoms can sometimes look like those of other disorders like ADHD or autism. It also varies a lot from kid to kid, so the first step to getting help for a child with NVLD is figuring out exactly what kinds of learning they struggle with. 

What are the symptoms of non-verbal learning disorder?

Signs that a child might have non-verbal learning disorder include: 

  • Trouble reading non-verbal social cues, such as facial expressions and body language 
  • Difficulty understanding sarcasm 
  • Difficulty recognizing other people’s emotions 
  • Trouble understanding visual information 
  • Trouble grasping spatial relationships and judging distance 
  • Seeming clumsy or uncoordinated 
  • Poor problem-solving skills 
  • Trouble with higher-level math concepts 
  • Talking a lot more than other kids 
  • Difficulty breaking down a project into smaller steps 
  • Poor organizational and planning skills 

How is non-verbal learning disorder diagnosed?

All kids with NVLD struggle to learn patterns, but that can look very different for different kids. The first step to helping kids with NLD is figuring out exactly what kinds of patterns they have trouble with. 

A specialized assessment for NVLD can pinpoint what kinds of learning a child struggles with. 

How is non-verbal learning disorder treated?

Learning professionals and therapists can use the results of a child’s assessment to develop the right supports for the child. Treatment involves teaching them to find the kinds of patterns that they might miss on their own. For instance, they can practice breaking problems into smaller steps or get coaching to understand social interactions. 
Parents can help by practicing these same strategies with kids at home. When they run into a problem, they can think aloud and talk through the steps they’re taking to figure it out. This can help kids with NVLD see what problem-solving looks like in action and get better at doing it themselves. 

This guide was last reviewed or updated on December 18, 2023.