Nonverbal Learning Disorder in Adults

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Despite the many challenges that adults with nonverbal learning disorders face, one of the most significant challenges they report is being misunderstood. Let's explore this type of disorder and its signs and symptoms.

What is a Nonverbal Learning Disorder?

Every day, we use nonverbal communication, like body language, eye contact, and facial expressions. But when someone has a nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD), they have trouble interpreting these nonverbal cues. You can see how this would cause major problems with everyday communication, and it often leads to poor social skills. People with NVLD also tend to have poor motor and visual-spatial skills.

It's important to note that people with NVLD usually have excellent higher order thinking skills, which involve analysis and evaluation as well as the production of new knowledge--the type of comprehension common among inventors and innovators. But it can also negatively affect one's reading comprehension and writing skills.

How Common is NVLD?

About 1% of school-aged kids have this disorder, but the prevalence among adults is not so clear, as NVLD studies tend to focus on children. Additionally, many people with NVLD are not properly diagnosed. This is due in part to the fact that those with the disorder usually appear to be very bright--they have strong verbal skills and vast vocabularies, and they do well academically. Sometimes, NVLD is misdiagnosed as an autism spectrum disorder, particularly Asperger's, and to make matters more confusing, many people with NVLD also have autism.

In any case, people with NVLD can learn to cope with their weaknesses and use their strengths to lead fulfilling lives.

Common Signs and Symptoms

At younger ages, people with NVLD often show the following symptoms:

  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills, such as writing
  • Problems reading facial expressions or interpreting body language
  • Difficulty with changes in routine and transition
  • Exceptional verbal skills
  • Strong memorization skills

As children with NVLD grow up, the disorder doesn't disappear, but the symptoms may change. Adults may also struggle with:

  • Following directions
  • Completing written assignments
  • Understanding concepts in written materials
  • Dating
  • Maintaining relationships
  • Adapting to change
  • Doing well in interviews
  • Taking notes

Adults with NVLD may also experience depression and anxiety disorder. As such, they may engage in compulsive behaviors as ways to ease anxiety. As you can see, nonverbal learning disorder affects a lot more than nonverbal communication--it can affect all aspects of a person's life.

Interacting with Adults with NVLD

Whether you're a coworker or a friend of someone with NVLD, you may need to adjust the way you communicate and interact with that person. Let's look at Sara, who has NVLD, to explore some strategies for working with adults with NVLD.

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