Nonverbal learning disabilities

5 Confusing Signs of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities

By The Understood Team

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Some signs of nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) might leave you scratching your head. Someone with NVLD might be extremely talkative, but not socially engaged. That can seem like a contradiction! Explore more of these confusing NVLD symptoms.

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Girl at a birthday party munching an apple
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Talking, but Not Connecting

Kids with NVLD often have great vocabularies. They quickly pick up words and phrases they read or hear from adults. But their big vocabularies can be deceiving. These kids can struggle to engage during casual conversation—especially when the topic doesn’t interest them. They might not notice whether another person finds a topic interesting, boring or uncomfortable. And they might not know when it’s time to give someone else a chance to talk.

Young child talking one-on-one with his dad
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Asking About Things, but Not Exploring

Kids with NVLD love to bombard parents and teachers with questions. They may ask for information about a new toy rather than playing with it to find how it works. This may be because kids with NVLD often have poor visual-spatial skills. Instead of exploring the world around them firsthand, they prefer asking for information.

Young girl reading in class
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Strong Reading and Spelling, but Poor Comprehension

Kids with NVLD are often very good readers. They’re strong at decoding (sounding out letters and words) and word recognition (reading words by sight without sounding them out). They’re usually good at spelling and reading out loud. But they often have trouble with reading comprehension and with holding on to the meaning of what they’ve read. They may struggle to understand the moral of a story. And they may have a hard time picking out important details—even in a simple passage.

Elementary age boy working with an abacus
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Memorizing Math Answers, but Not Understanding the Concepts Behind Them

Math is based on visual-spatial concepts. So kids need to picture how “two” and “two” come together to make “four.” Children with NVLD may understand the words being used to explain or solve math problems (“two plus two equals four”). But they often struggle to understand how the words connect to the concepts. They rely on memorization to come up with answers.

They may also have trouble understanding how numbers in columns work. Math problems that include borrowing or carrying can mix them up.

Teen age girl lost in thought during a conversation with friends
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Memorizing Information, but Not Knowing How to Share It

Kids with NVLD tend to have great rote memory skills. This means they can memorize lots of information without working hard at it. But they don’t always know how to share what they know.

They may go around the classroom telling the same thing to different students (even the ones who clearly aren’t interested). This is because kids with NVLD have a hard time noticing nonverbal cues. Nonverbal cues might include when a classmate changes his posture to suggest he’s not interested, rolls his eyes or makes a comment in a sarcastic tone of voice.

Father and son hanging on a city curb talking and smiling
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Understanding Behavior in Kids With NVLD

Kids with NVLD have many strengths. But those strengths can sometimes hide things that are challenging for them. This can be confusing for parents and teachers. But being aware of these contradictions is the first step toward helping these children use their strengths, build social skills and improve reading comprehension abilities.

It can be tricky to understand the difference between NVLD and autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s syndrome. Learn more about how autism relates to learning and attention issues.

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About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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