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.