Non-verbal Learning Disability (NLD or NVLD)

What is non-verbal learning disability (NLD or NVLD)?
Kids with NLD are very verbal, and may not have academic problems until they get into the upper grades in school.  Often their biggest problem is with social skills.
NLD is very like Asperger Syndrome. It may be that the diagnoses of Asperger syndrome (AS) and NLD simply “provide different perspectives on a heterogeneous, yet overlapping, group of individuals sharing at least some common aspects [1].”  AS and NLD are generally thought to describe pretty much the same kind of disorder, but to differ in severity—with AS describing more severe symptoms.

What are the signs of NLD?

  • Great vocabulary and verbal expression
  • Excellent memory skills
  • Attention to detail, but misses the big picture
  • Trouble understanding reading
  • Difficulty with math, especially word problems
  • Poor abstract reasoning
  • Physically awkward; poor coordination
  • Messy and laborious handwriting
  • Concrete thinking; taking things very literally
  • Trouble with nonverbal communication, like body language, facial expression and tone of voice
  • Poor social skills; difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Fear of new situations
  • Trouble adjusting to changes
  • May be very naïve and lack common sense
  • Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem
  • May withdraw, becoming agoraphobic (abnormal fear of open spaces)

Non verbal language disorder, Asperger, Kids Speak, Animated Language LearningWhat are some parenting tips for kids with NLD?

  • Keep the environment predictable and familiar.
  • Provide structure and routine.
  • Prepare your child for changes, giving logical explanations.
  • Pay attention to sensory input from the environment, like noise, temperature, smells, many people around, etc.
  • Help your child learn coping skills for dealing with anxiety and sensory difficulties.
  • Be logical, organized, clear, concise and concrete. Avoid jargon, double meanings, sarcasm, nicknames, and teasing.
  • State your expectations clearly.
  • Be very specific about cause and effect relationships.
  • Work with your child’s school to modify homework assignments, testing (time and content), grading, art and physical education.
  • Have your child use the computer at school and at home for schoolwork.
  • Help your child learn organizational and time management skills.
  • Make use of your child’s verbal skills to help with social interactions and non-verbal experiences.  For example, giving a verbal explanation of visual material.
  • Teach your child about non-verbal communication (facial expressions, gestures, etc.).  Help them learn how to tell from others’ reactions whether they are communicating well.
  • Learn about social competence and how to teach it.
  • Help your child out in group activities.
  • Get your child into the therapies they need, such as:  occupational and physical therapy, psychological, or speech and language (to address social issues).

How can parents help kids with poor social skills?
According to Mel Levine, in a book chapter titled “Unpopular Children [2]” there are many ways parents can help kids with social skills problems. Here are some ways parents can help their kids:

  • Steer your child toward a playmate they have something in common with and set up a play date. This is a way to get some social skills experience in a small, controlled, less-threatening way.
  • See if you can find a small-group social skills training program in your school system, medical system, or community. This kind of program will probably not be available in smaller communities.
  • Encourage your child to develop interests that will build their self-esteem and help them relate to other kids. For example, if your child is interested in Pokémon, pursuing this interest may open social doors for them with schoolmates.
  • Talk to your child in private after you have gone with them to a group activity. You can discuss with them how they could improve the way they interact with other kids. For example, you might point out that other kids don’t feel comfortable when your child stands so close to them. Help them practice the social skills you explain to them through role-playing.
  • Bullying is unacceptable. Your child’s school must make every effort to prevent it. If talking to your child’s teachers and principal does not put an end to the victimization, ask your child’s doctor to write a letter to the school, and pursue the issue up to higher channels in the school district if necessary.
  • These kids need as few handicaps as possible, so make sure your child is getting the counseling, therapies, and/or medication they need to treat any other problems or medical conditions they might have.
  • Reassure your child that you value them for who they are. It’s a little tricky to help your child improve social skills, and at the same time nurture their confidence to hold on to their unique individuality.
  • UMHS offers a Social Skills Group for Children with High-Functioning Autism, Aspergers and Related Disorders. It is a thorough and comprehensive social skills group directed towards overcoming the challenges of social success for children living with autism spectrum disorders.  The group is based upon the Super Skills curriculum written by Judith Coucouvanis and published by Autism Asperger Publishing Company. Children are matched with peers of similar age and functioning ability.

For more ideas for both teachers and parents, check out these “Do’s and Don’ts” for Fostering Social Competence.

How can I help my child succeed as a young adult?

Where can I find out more and get support?

On the Web:


  • Relationship Development Intervention with Young Children: Social and Emotional Development Activities for Asperger Syndrome, Autism, PDD and NLD by Steven Gutstein and Rachelle Sheely.
    An objectives-based program for parents, teachers, special educators and therapists to use with children ages two to eight.
  • Super Skills: A Social Skills Group Program for Children with Asperger Syndrome, High-Functioning Autism and Related Challenges, by Judith Coucouvanis.
    “Thirty lessons grouped under four types of skills necessary for social success: fundamental skills, social initiation skills, getting along with others, and social response skills. Each lesson is highly structured and organized, making it easy for even inexperienced teachers and other group leaders to follow and implement successfully. A series of practical checklists and other instruments provide a solid foundation for assessing students’ social skills levels and subsequent planning.”

Related topics on Your Child:

Literature Cited:
 [1] Klin, A,  Volkmar, FR. Asperger’s syndrome: guidelines for assessment and diagnosis.  Yale Child Study Center, Developmental Disabilities Clinic.  Available from:  URL:
 [2] Levine, MD.  Unpopular Children. In: Parker, S, Zuckerman, B, editors.  Behavioral and developmental pediatrics: a handbook for primary care.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company; 1995.  p. 327.

Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan

Updated November 2012