Month: February 2011

Nonverbal Learning Disability – “NLD” in a Nutshell

Terminology in the field of psychology and education can be very off-putting. Too often jargon is tossed around that few people really understand.  My test for jargon would be if the average person on the street doesn’t know what a term means, then it is jargon. I can guarantee you if you asked 100 people what “NLD or Nonverbal Learning Disability” meant, most would be scratching their heads. Even for professionals in the field of education and psychology the term can be confusing. What follows is NLD in a jargon free nutshell. 

The nutshell view is that children who are NLD have considerable strengths clustering on their verbal abilities. These children are very facile verbally. They have a storehouse of information that is readily answered when asked verbal questions.  Their vocabulary knowledge is broad.

On the other side of the coin, the NLD kids struggle with a range of tasks that are nonverbal in nature, hence the term – “Nonverbal Learning Disability.” These kids tend not to do well with spatial tasks such as putting blocks together to match patterns or while analyzing different visual patterns. While this difficulty can affect their academic functioning, more importantly, the NLD kids struggle in the social arena. Why? When interacting socially, so much of  the interaction is visual (nonverbal) in nature involving the “reading” and interpreting of a variety of  cues and stimuli in the environment.

The pie chart to the right illustrates this well.

Pie chart

As the chart shows, at least 55% of communication skills involves non-verbal communication. Is it any wonder that if you are in the 5th – 10th percentile of nonverbal intelligence, you will struggle greatly in the social arena?

Take young Matthew, a boy I met when he was 5, who is now in middle school. From a young age Matthew was a storehouse of knowledge and verbal abilities, obtaining a 138 Verbal IQ (99th percentile). This was contrasted with a 1st percentile score in the nonverbal domain. All of the years that I have known Matthew, social interaction has been a struggle that few have understood. 

Here are his father’s words about how Matthew does in the social arena:

“Being Matthew is like living in a social purgatory, wanting to be social but lacking an understanding how to go about it. How do I protect my son? How do I ensure he gets social/emotional support?   Does anyone on Matthew’s team really understand the crippling social effects caused by the way he’s wired?”

Matthew will need a lot of support, particularly in situations that are less structured, such as the playground and lunch room. He will need to have an adult with whom he can “anchor” and feel a confident connection.

Whether he gets such support or not is another story.

BRDD: Boy Reading Deficit Disorder

You’re a 12 year old boy.  Let’s say you have three hours (or more) to kill.  Which would you rather do, entertain your superhero fantasies, kill a gazillion bad guys, and perhaps save the world, or read a book? While I haven’t conducted this research study, I would predict that of a sample of say 1000 twelve year old boys, 999 would choose saving the world (on video of course).  

While I was a boy (in the log cabin era), I entertained my superhero fantasies by playing outside. (I was always Batman.) There wasn’t all that much going on inside, except when we got involved with very deep comic book reading sessions – Batman, Superman, Legion of Superheroes, that sort of thing. Of course, most children do go through a superhero phase. In fact, there was recently research conducted to see which comic book universe each state prefers (look at the source here). That just shows how many people love comic books!


I’m not sure what life would have been like had video games been available to us.  I think that even reading comics would have been something seen as too slow and not having enough juice to hold our very fragile attention spans.
Boys of the modern era have a very tough time of it slogging through a book.  Their sense of slowly letting a book unfold over time is becoming increasingly foreign to their experience –   “Wait, it could take me three or more weeks to finish this story? No chance.”  

I know that the usual answer is you have to find the subject matter that will engage their interests and they will connect to reading.  I’m not so sure.  The distractions are running rampant around their poor brains.

One solution is to start early if you can with a quiet time in the house that becomes sacred down time – no electronic interferences whatsoever (this means adults too).   Steering your child to choose among some Newbery award winning books part of the ritual may excite some dormant part of his psyche. 

If this time becomes a part of the household ritual, then going off and saving the world, at least for that hour to an hour and a half, is something that will have to be put on hold.  You may find one way of staving off BRDD.



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