The puzzler diagnosis…Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)

You’re a teacher. A girl in your class stands too close when she talks to classmates and speaks too loudly. She doesn’t understand anyone’s jokes.  She is forever getting lost finding her classrooms even though she has been in this school for more than three months. She's reluctant to try to learn anything new.  She remembers lots of things but seems disorganized and scattered.  You are wondering if she may have Asperger’s syndrome.   

Her actual diagnosis?  Non-verbal learning disorder.

Non-verbal communication, including social distance, facial expression, body posture, gestures, speaking tone, and interaction rate, makes up about 65% of our communication.  That’s the largest part of our communications!  It may be hard to describe exactly what is not quite right with someone with NVLD.  But not being able to read others’ non-verbal cues and little awareness of their own non-verbal presence can lead to significant communication problems and isolation. 

NVLD is most typically diagnosed late in the elementary years or the pre-teen years during middle school.  These students are often are challenged by academic assignments, in spite of their skill with language, and they have few positive relationships.  Depression is one of the triggers that often will move these children toward a full evaluation.  The reason for the late diagnosis is that there are so many areas these individuals excel in.  Their reading, spelling and verbal skills are very strong. 

Common characteristics are:

  • Poor writing skills.
  • When tested, their verbal skills are strong but their visual skills, such as doing puzzles and visual matching, are weaker
  • Difficulty with transitions and trying new things
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Anxiety
  • Non-stop or frequent talking/questioning
  • Organizational difficulties
  • Visual spatial difficulties – poor sense of direction
  • Very literal and have difficulty with metaphors, humor, idioms and other figurative language concepts.

This surely is a puzzler condition.  It can take a long time to diagnosis and can be even more challenging to treat.  The Brain Trainer recently provided cognitive training to someone with this diagnosis and I am really excited about her end result.  More on that next Tuesday, in our next blog.

Is There A Dyslexia Spectrum?

 Most people think of dyslexia as a visual reading disorder, because letters or words can appear reversed.  But that’s only half the story.  Many children with dyslexia also have challenges with auditory processing and memory.  The child’s ear responds to sound but his or her brain does not process the sound well.  Up to 75% of reading disorders are actually based on auditory processing problems – even if the person hears just fine.

Most children with auditory processing difficulties will struggle to learn how to read.  They also have difficulty spelling or pronouncing words.

Signs of dyslexia include:

  • Difficulty remembering the sound of letters
  • Difficulty putting the sounds together (/b/, /u/, /s/ to say the word “bus”)
  • Difficulty following directions or remembering what was just said to them
  • Challenges focusing on auditory and visual stimuli at the same time
  • Vague speech and difficulty finding the right word. A teen might use “thing,” “stuff,” or similar language more often than her peers.
  • Generally disorganized
  • Difficulty learning a second language in high school

Compensation or retraining?

Many parents encourage children with these challenges to bypass their weak auditory system by using visuals such as flash cards to memorize words.  That approach is a mistake.  Children and teens with auditory processing difficulties respond extremely well to an intensive cognitive and auditory approach directed at re-wiring their brains.

There is a dyslexia spectrum.  Not all reading problems are the same. Auditory processing and memory skills – not visual deficits – are the most frequent cause of reading difficulties.  Auditory skills respond well to training to help a child perform better in school or an adult who continues to struggle with reading, especially when paired with the goal of improving other cognitive skills.