School Success for Nonverbal Learning Disability

Teacher and students watch a classmate succeed in school.

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Nonverbal learning disorder, or NVLD, is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty with nonverbal skills, such as spatial-visual processing and understanding abstract or nuanced language. Understanding concrete language and decoding words for reading are not part of NVLD. People with NVLD often have age-appropriate basic speaking skills. The strengths in their verbal skills are often a key piece in finding strategies for a child or teen with NVLD to succeed in school.

NVLD is a neurological condition, often present from birth, that affects the right hemisphere of the brain. It does not seem to be a condition that a child will grow out of, but rather a lifelong condition. Finding what works to help a child with NVLD will help them learn how to succeed over the course of their life.

Common traits of children who experience NVLD include:

  • May appear clumsy as they struggle to judge the distance, size, and shape of objects in their environment
  • May have trouble maintaining focus and paying attention
  • Often very literal and may not understand humor, sarcasm, or idioms

How NVLD Can Affect Learning

Children and teens with NVLD struggle with shapes, distance, and nonverbal communication, like body language and voice tone. This can lead to a host of challenges at school. Some possible challenges include making friends at school, participating in physical education or other movement-based school activities, and problems with early math assignments that are based on learning shapes and seeing visual patterns.

A child or teen with NVLD is likely to feel overwhelmed by trying to meet all the expectations that their typical peers seem to do with ease. This can lead to frustration and acting out behavior, loss of confidence, or shutting down and withdrawing.

Of course, each child with NVLD is unique, as all individual children are unique. In addition to their concrete verbal skills, each child is likely to have other strengths that can be useful in helping them to find success in school.


If you think your child may have NVLD, it's important to get a proper diagnosis. Follow these steps.

Speak With Your Child's Doctor

Speaking with your child's care provider is always a good place to start if you are concerned about your child's development and growth. Keep in mind that getting a diagnosis for NVLD can be difficult, as NVLD is currently not a diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

You will also want to rule out similar-appearing conditions, like autism. Your child's care provider can help you identify the best ways to get your child the testing and support your child will need.

Understand Your Child's Abilities

People with NVLD have either no or very limited spatial-visual capabilities. Knowing your child's limitations can help you avoid trying to teach skills in a way they may not have the ability to understand. Knowing your child's strengths will give you the information to teach skills in a different way that your child will be able to process.

Become an ​Advocate

NVLD is not a well-known condition. Fortunately, today's teachers and educators are trained with modern methods that can support people with wide-ranging skills and abilities. In order for teachers to know which methods are most likely to work, they need to understand exactly what NVLD is and how it affects your child.

If your child is having severe struggles at school, you may want to ask for an IEP or 504 plan, which are specific plans for children who either experience disabilities or disability-like symptoms.

Strategies for Educators

These tips can be useful for educators who work with your child:

  • Break large assignments down into smaller pieces. For example, provide a step-by-step guide for project assignments.
  • Directly teach social skills. Children with NVLD often do not notice or perceive body language and social cues. This includes how physically close personal space is. It also includes facial expressions and tone of speaking.
  • Encourage classmates to be accepting of other students who may have social differences. Children with NVLD often miss or do not comprehend social cues. This can lead to social problems like ostracizing, bullying, and rejecting a child with NVLD.
  • Explain any language used that is not clear when removed from its context. This could include the teaching of idioms and homophones, jokes, sarcasm, or humor.
  • Provide an explanation of theme and summary for reading assignments. Do not expect the student to figure it out for themselves.
  • Provide clear, specific instructions for assignments and tasks.
  • Provide extra time to get between classrooms or assign a hall buddy to prevent wandering and getting lost.

Strategies for Parents

Try these strategies at home:

  • Learn as much as you can about NVLD. Be prepared to explain what NVLD is and exactly how it affects your child so that school professionals and others can find ways to understand and support your child.
  • Provide extra help with organization. Try color-coding subject folders, and find ways to simplify school work.
  • Establish and maintain a homework routine. Realize that it may take several reminders for the routine to become a habit. Have a place at home with the written plan of the homework routine so your child has a place to look and remember what to do and when.
  • Find extracurricular opportunities that will help your child practice emerging social skills while having a school activity to look forward to. This may be an activity centered around a special interest. Regular school learning can be frustrating to those with NVLD. Having a special activity to look forward to can help keep your child motivated for school.
  • Explore physical and occupational therapy options for your child. The difficulty with spatial processing can often lead to problems with handwriting, using eating utensils, fastening clothing, as well as navigating their environment.
  • Look for physical activities that provide a safe level of growth for your child. While difficulty with spatial processing can lead to clumsiness, it is still important for your child to get adequate movement and exercise. If your child sees a physical or occupational therapist, ask for suggestions on activities that would suit your child's abilities.

A Word From Verywell

Getting a diagnosis for NVLD can be extremely difficult given that researchers are still working to clearly define this condition. Often, getting a diagnosis can be a key to accessing proper supports and interventions for people with unique needs in school. Whether or not you are able to get a diagnosis, what you need is an understanding of your child's skills and abilities.

If you find that providers and insurance are not open to discussing NVLD, focus on the specific challenges—and strengths—of your child. Regardless of whether or not your child has a specific diagnosis, building on and utilizing strengths and actual abilities are what will help your child succeed when they experience NVLD.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fernández-Prieto I, Caprile C, Tinoco-González D, et al. Pitch perception deficits in nonverbal learning disability. Res Dev Disabil. 2016;59:378-386. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2016.09.011

  2. Semrud-Clikeman M, Walkowiak J, Wilkinson A, Minne EP. Direct and indirect measures of social perception, behavior, and emotional functioning in children with Asperger’s disorder, nonverbal learning disability, or ADHD. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2010;38(4):509-519. doi:10.1007/s10802-009-9380-7

Additional Reading

By Lisa Linnell-Olsen
Lisa Linnell-Olsen has worked as a support staff educator, and is well-versed in issues of education policy and parenting issues.