Nonverbal Learning Disabilities: An Introduction for Parents

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Nonverbal Learning Disabilities: An Introduction for Parents


Byron Rourke (1995) characterized the primary neuropsychological deficits of developmental right-hemisphere brain syndrome or nonverbal learning disabilities as a lack of tactile perception, visualspatial perception, psychomotor coordination, and attention to novel stimuli. Rourke also noted secondary and tertiary deficits in visual attention, physical functioning, memory for nonverbal material, ability to internalize feedback, and problem solving strategies. NVLD children speak loudly and/or inappropriately during class time or in the library.

Individuals with these characteristics tend to rely on verbal language as the primary means of communication. Children with NVLD have difficulty understanding body language, facial expressions, as well as norms involving personal space, touch and tone of voice.

Signs and Symptoms

  • This child is clumsy, awkward and uncoordinated
  • These children have difficulty learning to ride a bike or catch a ball
  • Fine motor skills are poor, activities such as buttoning a shirt, cutting with scissors, tying shoelaces and printing can be problematic
  • He/she is disorganized and seems to be confused although s/he is very verbal
  • He/she don‟t understand when “enough is enough” and are “inyour-face” kind of people who don‟t understand the unwritten rules of personal space
  • These children cope by using their good memories for rote material and depend on their memories of past experiences rather than on social cues from other people
  • Resistance to transitions and changing environments is common due to their difficulty processing information effectively The overall pattern of NVLD individuals tends to involve most or all of the following major areas of functioning: INTERPRETATION, INTEGRATION, INTUITION, INSIGHT, and INITIATIVE

How to Get Special Education Help for Your Child

The Education Act of Ontario guarantees your child‟s right to an appropriate education, regardless of any difficulties or special needs. As a parent, you have an important role as an advocate in ensuring that your child receives an appropriate education.

The Process:

  • If you believe that your child would benefit from special education, write to your school principal requesting that your child be referred to an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (I.P.R.C). You may be requested to sign a form giving permission for a psychological assessment if one has not already been done.
  • When the case conference/school resource team is called, be sure that you attend. This is the pre I.P.R.C. discussion. Important decisions are often made prior to the I.P.R.C. Make sure that you have a copy of your school boards‟ “Parent Guide to Special Education Booklet.”
  • Prepare for the I.P.R.C. by writing down what you want. Be prepared to be an active participant. If you feel the need, take someone with you.
  • At the I.P.R.C., it will be decided whether your child is “exceptional”, i.e. has a special need, what those needs are and what placement will best meet his or her needs. There may also be some discussion about what special education program and/or services may be required to ensure that the placement can meet the needs of your child.
  • When the I.P.R.C. has reached a decision, you will receive a written copy of that decision. Your written consent indicating your agreement with the decision will be required. If you have any concerns, it is advisable not to sign the form at the I.P.R.C. Take it home with you and think about it.
  • If you still have questions regarding either the identification or the placement, you may request a second meeting with the I.P.R.C. by writing to the principal.
  • If you do not agree with the I.P.R.C. decision, you have the right to appeal. Your notice of appeal must be sent to the Director of Education within 30 days of the I.P.R.C. decision. You may appeal the identification and/or placement.
  • Once your child has been placed in a special education placement, you can request a review any time after three months. A review every twelve months is mandatory by law.
  • Each exceptional child must have a written Individual Education Plan (IEP). The plan should contain long and short term goals, measurable objectives, present levels of functioning, regular evaluations to see if the child has achieved the objective, a list of any special education services (personal, equipment, technology that may be required to insure success).


It is estimated that at least 10% of our population have learning disabilities and at least 80% of those with LD have language-based deficits. Those with NVLD comprise only 0.1% to 1% of the general population. The incidence of NVLD is just as common in both males and females.

Diagnosing NVLD

  • Because the child with a Nonverbal Learning disability is probably performing at or above grade level on most academic achievement tests routinely used at elementary schools, a complete psychoeducational
    assessment may not have been administered.
  • A psycho-educational assessment will reveal a nonverbal disability when there is a discrepancy between the verbal IQ (VIQ) and the performance (PIQ). On the Weshler intelligence scales for Children-Third Edition (WISC-III), if the PIQ is 10-15 points lower than the VIQ, it is generally considered significant.


Specific compensations, accommodations, modifications, and strategies (CAMS) will be required for the child to function competently. Without CAMS the child may shut down or burn out in his efforts to meet the demands placed on him.


Suggested compensations include:

  • Provide extra time to get to places and provide verbal cues to help the individual navigate through spaces
  • Ensure that inappropriate expectations are not placed on the child despite the tendency to overestimate the intelligence of the person with NLD;
  • Protect the child from teasing, persecution, and other sources of anxiety. Avoid power struggles, punishment and threatening.


Accommodations could include:

  • Minimize open and pencil tasks and use a word processor for all written school assignments, during and outside class
  • Provide continuous assistance with organizing information and communicating in writing
  • Provide additional time for all written assignments
  • Modify or eliminate all time assignments and tests since processing of information is slower than that of a typical student
  • Use a “part-to-whole” verbal teaching approach to ensure understanding—never assume understanding. Spell out everything,- even what may seem obvious


Modifications may include:

  • Provide an atmosphere where the student has plenty of opportunity to verbalize and have verbal feedback in order to learn
  • Provide extra time before and after breaks to disengage and adjust to changes in pace, less changing of rooms, more time spent with one teacher, and a carefully selected non-LD peer “buddy” to guide him/her through the day
  • Provide an environment with a well-established routine and provide consistent responses from staff working with the student.

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