Q: Recently, my son was diagnosed with a Nonverbal Learning Disorder. I am slowly learning about the disorder, but I wanted to know if you had any suggestions as to what I can do to help him? Also, is there anything teachers can do in order to facilitate his learning?
A: A lot of people have never heard of Nonverbal Learning Disorders (NVLD), but in reality, they are somewhat prevalent in our community. Diane Connell, of Scholastic, an educational company, explains that students with NVLD have a unique set of academic strengths and weaknesses. Unlike most other students identified as learning disabled, these students can start their academic career on a gifted track. They are wonderful readers, can articulate their thoughts clearly, and can memorize, categorize, and recall numerous facts. Teachers have realized that children with NVLD are very different from other children with LD.
For starters, in elementary school, children with NVLD are adept at reading and articulating their thoughts. This often disguises the learning disability. However, there are four major areas in which NVLD manifests itself:
Gross motor development. Children with NVLD are slow to walk, ride a bicycle, and play ball. Sometimes they seem clumsy because they tend to walk into objects and people.
Visual-motor deficits. Those diagnosed with NVLD have trouble processing and remembering images, which can translate into difficulty remembering numbers, letters, and geometric forms. The lack of eye-hand coordination also makes using utensils, tying shoelaces, drawing, writing, and cutting particularly hard.
Nonverbal communication and maintaining friendships. Because so much of communication is conveyed verbally, children with neurological deficits in the right hemisphere (like those with NVLD), have trouble reading nonverbal cues. This can lead to misunderstandings with their peers and sometimes can result in difficulty maintaining friendships.
Emotional problems. If NVLD is misunderstood, these children can develop more serious emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, and phobias. Often compounded by the fact that children with NVLD desperately want to perform the way their parents and teachers would like them to, but simply do not know how to.
Here are some of the ways that you can help your son:
Positive reinforcement. Children with NVLD experience disappointment and frustration when those around them expect more than they can actually do. Learn about your child’s limitations. Then, let him know that you are proud of him when he extends himself past his comfort zone. He might not do something perfectly, but applaud his effort.
Special education consultant. Modifications for writing and written assignments are often necessary for students with NVLD. To that end, someone involved in special education can help work out your son’s individual requirements.
Language or social skills specialist. Because tone of voice and nonverbal communication is so essential to social interactions, having your son work with a language or social skills specialist in order to learn these important skills will greatly improve his social IQ.
Occupational therapist. Children with NVLD can also benefits from occupational therapists who can assist them with visual motor coordination. This will help with writing, and with other physical activities like riding a bike or tying shoelaces.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is believe in your son, so that he in turn, can learn to believe in himself.