NONVERBAL LEARNING DISABILITY



The term nonverbal learning disability (NLD) is a label used to represent a syndrome of behaviors documented during clinical practice. There is no scientific research to support the existence of this syndrome except that clinicians agree that the behaviors exist, and that varying patients exhibit similar deficit behaviors.

Brain scans of individuals with NLD often confirm mild abnormalities of the right cerebral hemisphere. This evidence suggests that early damage to the right cerebral hemisphere is the contributing cause of the NLD syndrome. In children, both the symptoms and behaviors of this learning disorder resemble those of an adult patient with a severe head injury to the right cerebral hemisphere.

Identifying Characteristic Behaviors of Nonverbal Learning Disability

People with a non-verbal learning disability are actually highly verbal but are challenged when it comes to processing non-verbal information. NLD can be seen in three areas of neurological development: motor, social and visual-spatial. Some children will exhibit problems in all three areas while some may only have problems with one or two of these areas.

For the child with weaker-than-normal gross- and fine-motor skills riding a bike or playing soccer can be terribly difficult, as can using scissors or even holding a pencil or fork. Children that are unable to process the many nonverbal visual cues that characterize social interactions become social isolates because they are unsuccessful in social situations. Visual spatial difficulties are exhibited as being clumsy and bumping into things, poor at sports because they cannot visualize where their body is in relation to the ball.

Group activities, such as being in a classroom, may well be where NLD is most identifiable. Because they cannot interpret all of the non-verbal interactions going on around them, these children do not understand what is going on. They may refuse to stay seated or may hum or distract themselves in other ways that are disruptive to the group without understanding that they are acting inappropriately.

Not all individuals with NLD show this full range of difficulties. While many have noticeable social difficulties or problems with balance and coordination, still others are socially popular and athletically talented. It is always wise to locate the underlying cause of observed behaviors so that appropriate, helpful, and non-punitive measures can be implemented. There appears to be as many differences within this group as there are between this group and other learning exceptionalities.

Designing the Nonverbal Learning Disability IEP

Nonverbal learning disorders are often misdiagnosed. Often a child with NLD may initially be considered to have ADD/ADHD, to be autistic or suffer from Asperger's Syndrome. It is important, whenever a diagnosis or any type of learning disability is made, so be sure to have multiple evaluations. This will ensure that the proper diagnosis is made and the most appropriate interventions included in the IEP.

The Individualized Education Plan for the child with NLD consists of identifying needed coping skills, and practical support. Interventions are not intended to correct the problem rather they are designed to offer compensatory skills and to lessen the daily stress the child encounters. Unless appropriate accommodations, modifications, and teaching strategies are initiated during the elementary years, the prognosis for school success is poor.

A child with NLD is especially inclined towards developing depression and/or anxiety disorders if the nonverbal learning disorders are not recognized early and accommodated in a compassionate, responsible, and supportive fashion. It is not unusual for the child with nonverbal learning disorders to become increasingly isolated and withdrawn as failures in school multiply and intensify.

Determining an Eligibility Classification for Special Education

It is important to note that a classification of nonverbal learning disability is not a designation used by the department of education. For special education purposes, it will be necessary to assess the child’s strengths and weaknesses and identify the areas in which the greatest weaknesses exist. Learning disabilities, take many forms known as processing disorders. These processing disorders may impact

  • vision (visual processing disorder, failure of eyes to send accurate information to the brain),
  • hearing (auditory processing disorder, failure to correctly interpret information received by the ears),
  • coordination of the muscles of the body with other senses (sensory motor integration),
  • the ability to stay focused in the classroom (attention), and
  • the ability to form and verbalize ideas (conceptualization).

If the child is having difficulty with social interactions, it will be necessary to determine exactly which processing weakness is behind that specific behavior. If he is unable to process nonverbal visual cues such as hand gestures, then the classification would be visual processing disorder.

If he is bothered by the noise in the classroom and cannot follow multi-step instructions then he would be classified as having an auditory processing problem, and the IEP would include accommodations, modification, technology, and compensations that will help the child achieve while strengthening auditory processing skills.

Read more on this subject at: www.ldonline.org/article/6114 where modifications, accommodations, strategies, and compensatory services for each processing disorder are recommended and described.

IEP Advocacy for Child with Nonverbal Learning Disability

An advocate for the child with a nonverbal learning disability will experience the greatest challenge in getting a correct assessment of the problem. When that has been accomplished, working with the school district to design an appropriate individualized education plan will be the next challenge.

IEP Advocacy should focus on getting appropriate services. The Individualized Education Plan for the child with NLD consists of identifying needed coping skills, and practical support. If the problem is severe enough, it may be necessary to retrain another area of the brain to assume that task. If the IEP team is in agreement, the school district may assign an occupational therapist to achieve this objective.

Other goals may not be intended to correct the problem; rather they are designed to offer compensatory skills and to lessen the daily stress the child encounters. Unless appropriate accommodations, modifications, and teaching strategies are initiated during the elementary years, prognosis for success in school is poor for this child.

IEP advocacy is available in our LD Reference Book and practical hands on assistance is availalbe by email, fax or phone just contact us.


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