Training on learning disabilities

for parents and teachers.

New strategies and methodologies

and ICT contribution.


Go Back



Nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD) appears to be the result of an alteration of cognitive functions linked to thedysfunctions in right hemisphere. It is characterized by the concomitance of difficulties in social skills, school performance, low visual-spatial skill and clumsiness. It was described in 1971 by Johnson et al, from the observation of children whose main characteristics were: Inability to understand the meaning of social context, poor ability both for academic learning and difficulty in nonverbal learning. Difficulties in interpreting gestures, facial expressions, touch and other nonverbal communication elements. It was linked to dysfunction in the Right Hemisphere (R.H.) by the overlap of these symptoms in adults with R.H. injury. The most comprehensive author in the field of NVLD is Rourke et al. (1994) who defined the diagnostic criteria and suggested an affectationin connections of the Right Hemisphere.


In general, the symptoms of nonverbal learning disabilities mainly are:

  • Difficulties in activities which require psychomotor coordination.
  • Orientation in space.
  • Poor visualization skills.
  • Underdeveloped visual perception and visual thinking abilities.
  • Lack of understanding of the nonverbal aspects of communication and difficulties in interactions with peers.
  • Emotional disturbances.

These difficulties are centered in three areas:

  1. Motor area (Lack of coordination, poor exploratory behavior, severe balance problems and difficulties in graph- motor skills.
  2. Visual- spatial-organization: tactile and visual perception, attention, tactile and visual memory, (lack of overall image, poor visual memory, defective spatial perception and difficulties with spatial relations)
  3. Social: (lack of ability in understanding nonverbal communications, difficulties in coping with the new situations and lack of judgment and social interaction).

See the table below:

Common features of NLD:

Dr. David Dinklage says: „There is clearly a great deal of overlap between Asperger Disorder (AD) and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD), so much so that it is possible that the symptoms of each describe the same group of children from different perspectives—AD from either a psychiatric/behavioral perspective, and NVLD neuropsychological perspective“...“

Studies conducted by the Yale Child-Study Group suggest that up to 80% of children who meet the criteria for AD also have NVLD. While there are no studies on overlap in the other direction, most likely children with the more severe forms of NVLD also have AD.“

Many scientists claim that nonverbal learning disabilities have a neurological base. For example, Sue Thompson: „Developmental histories have revealed that a number of the children suffering from nonverbal learning disorders who have come to clinical attention have at some time early in their development: (1) sustained a moderate to severe head injury, (2) received repeated radiation treatments on or near their heads over a prolonged period of time, (3) congenital absence of the corpus callosum, (4) been treated for hydrocephalus, or (5) actually had brain tissue removed from their right hemisphere.”

Verbal abilities are usually well developed in early childhood: extensive vocabulary, good speaking skills. Some children often start to read quite early. Parents and educators might think this is a sign of giftedness. However when the child is growing up his language still remains too concrete, too literal, he experience difficulties in understanding metaphors, the main topic and the whole picture of the text.

The child with nonverbal learning disabilities has the significant difficulties to adapt the requests of his environment and the older he is, the more severe learning problems appear. This causes inner confusion and the behaviormight look like attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The child can ask questions “out of context”, because understanding the context is his difficulty, or might look as having activity disorder because of lack of psychomotor coordination and bad orientation in space.

Usually children with nonverbal learning disability are trying hard to meet the demands of their educators very seriously, they work too hard and may “burn out”, get nervous and breakdown. Nonverbal learning disability affects the whole personality. By some scientist it is considered a developmental disorder, not only a learning disability.