Classroom accommodations for nonverbal learning disabilities

Students who have nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) have difficulty with social skills and abstract thinking. They often need explicit instruction to pick up on social cues and struggle with things like abstract concepts or changes to their routine. What can teachers do to help? Here are some classroom accommodations to try.

Classroom schedules and routines

  • Create a daily class routine that changes as little as possible.

  • Post class schedules, rules, and expectations; make sure the student sees them.

  • Make a laminated card with the student’s schedule on it.

  • Provide verbal cues before transitions.

  • Give the student plenty of time to preview and prepare for new activities like group projects, field trips, and other changes in routine.

  • Let the student choose where to sit.

Introducing new concepts

  • Give a short review or connection to a previous lesson before teaching new ideas.

  • Provide an overview of a lesson before teaching it and clearly state the objective.

  • Use simple, concrete, and clear language.

  • Define figures of speech as you use them.

  • Explain jokes and identify sarcasm and words that have more than one meaning.

  • Break down abstract concepts and rephrase if needed.

Providing instructions and materials

  • Speak slowly when giving directions.

  • Give written directions—even for assignments you’d expect a student to be able to generalize from the past.

  • Offer guided notes to use in class and to help the student zero in on key points of complex assignments.

  • Provide a rubric that describes the elements of a successful assignment.

  • Shorten assignments to avoid overwhelming the student.

  • Adapt worksheets to cut down on handwriting. For example, use “circle the answer” or “fill in the blank” questions.

  • Break a big project into smaller steps, making sure the student understands the overall goal and how the parts fit together.

  • Use organizers and mind-mapping software.

  • Share the test format ahead of time so the student can focus on content.

  • Allow extended time for taking tests.

  • Create a quiet work space as needed.

  • Offer an extra set of books to keep at home.

Building self-regulation and social skills

  • Proactively identify signs of overstimulation or frustration.

  • Use a nonverbal signal with the student to indicate the need for a brain break.

  • Identify a calming zone at school where the student can go to regroup and relax.

  • Teach social rules like how close to stand to people and how to interpret body language and other nonverbal cues.

  • Pre-correct and prompt to help teach social skills.

  • Respond to inappropriate behavior using respectful redirection.

  • Develop a consistent strategy for when the student repeats questions or gets stuck on a topic or idea (sometimes called “perseveration”).

What’s next?

Do you have a student who you think may have nonverbal learning disabilities? Watch one young woman talk about what it was like to be a student with NVLD.

Does your child have NVLD? Explore strategies and tips for helping your child make sense of social cues like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.


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