Non-Verbal Learning Disability: Symptoms & Accommodations

Instructor: Shannon Orr
This lesson is designed to define non-verbal learning disability. This lesson also describes some of the symptoms of NLD and what teachers can do to help students with NLD in the classroom.

What If?

Imagine entering a classroom where you can only understand the teacher if he or she verbally explains a concept or verbally gives instructions. If the teacher decides to focus the lesson primarily on pictures and models, you are left feeling lost, and you are too afraid to say that you don't understand because you are already having a hard time fitting in. You want to make friends with your classmates but it's difficult for you to figure out if they are friendly or prefer to be left alone unless you actually have a conversation with them. For students who suffer with NLD, this is a common obstacle they have to face on a daily basis.

Non-Verbal Learning Disability

Non-verbal learning disability, or NLD, is a disorder where people are unable to understand actions or behaviors that are not given verbally. The name 'non-verbal learning disability' can be very confusing because it sounds as if people with this type of disorder do not have the ability to or have a difficult time communicating verbally, but in fact, this is the exact opposite. People who are diagnosed with NLD are very comfortable speaking and expressing themselves verbally. The disconnect happens when they are not given verbal directions.

Since a lot of instruction in elementary school is verbal, many students who fall into this category aren't diagnosed until later when students enter higher grade levels and the use of verbal instructions and explanations decreases. NLD is difficult to diagnosis because the symptoms may appear to be associated with other things. For example, one symptom is poor handwriting. A teacher may confuse this with a student being messy or disinterested in their school work. Also, socially awkwardness could be a symptom but many students who enter middle school would be considered socially awkward. Developing a relationship with students is the best way for teachers to determine if they have a student or students who would be classified as NLD.

Teacher's Responsibility

As a teacher, it is your responsibility to strive to reach every child academically despite the challenges they may face. Some things may seem obvious to you as an adult but for a student that has NLD, they may be unable to truly understand what they are expected to do. For instance, a teacher may ask a student with NLD a question and after waiting a significant amount of time without a response, the teacher might say, 'Open your mouth.' A student with NLD may do just that and open his or her mouth, without answering the question. If the teacher is not properly trained and is unaware of the condition, the student's behavior may be viewed as disrespectful and defiant when actually the student is simply following the directions they believe the teacher has given.

NLD Teaching Strategies

Like many disabilities, Non-Verbal Learning Disability does not have a cure. However, there are several strategies that students can be taught in order to be successful and function within the classroom. Since every student who is diagnosed with NLD is different, it is important to remember that there is not one specific technique or plan that will work with every student who has NLD.

One method teachers can use is progress monitoring. Progress monitoring is when teachers try different strategies and record the results to see if the strategies are effective or ineffective in helping students. For example, teachers may repeat directions specifically to a student with NLD each time after giving the directions to the whole class. If the student with NLD is able to complete the task correctly, then this strategy would be considered effective and could be used to help the student make academic progress. However, if the strategy has been used for several weeks with little to no positive results, the teacher may decide that this strategy is not beneficial to this student.

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