What Is a Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD)?

What is an NVLD?

A Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD or NLD) is a disorder that is primarily characterized by strengths with verbal skills, coupled with difficulties handling social situations, visual-spatial reasoning, organization, certain motor tasks, and with adapting to novel tasks.

These criteria overlap with some criteria for ADD or ADHD, and with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The difficulties associated with NVLD may not manifest themselves until later grades (late elementary or middle school), when students can no longer rely on their superior verbal abilities alone, but need to become more socially savvy, better at inferring, and more adept at organizing their activities and belongings.

Unfortunately, it is currently not recognized as a diagnosis by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 (DSM-V), the leading resource and diagnostic guideline for North American physicians and psychiatrists. This makes it difficult for children with NVLDs to receive the appropriate support.

If it’s not a “real” diagnosis, why does it matter?

Many parents recognize that their child fits the NVLD criteria to a tee. As a learning specialist, I have seen the constellation of difficulties that NVLD includes co-occur frequently, and it has guided my supports for these children. A diagnosis can be empowering and it can ease access to supports, but even without that, knowing about NVLD can help you and your child know that you are not alone in experiencing this set of difficulties, and it can help you provide your child the right supports.

People with NVLD are also prone to anxiety and depression, thus giving them social, academic, and practical life strategies is essential in helping them feel safe and supported.

If you suspect your child might have a Non-Verbal Learning Disability, follow this link for part two of this article about how to help your child with an NVLD.