A teacher and her students

Does My Student Have NVLD?

For Educators

NVLD is an acronym for Non-Verbal Learning Disability,
sometimes referred to as NVLD.

It is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and the way you teach a child with NVLD can be different from how you teach a child with ASD or ADHD. NVLD affects aspects of academic performance and the development of social skills, including the ability to form meaningful friendships.

If you’re worried that one of your students may have NVLD, take a look at the questions below. If you answer “yes” to the first question and some of the others, and/or if these descriptions “feel” like your student, we recommend you speak to the school psychologist or learning specialist about the student.

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How Do I know If My Student Has NVLD?

Does the student have poor spatial skills, such as difficulty building with blocks, but strong language abilities, such as a good vocabulary?

Poor spatial skills paired with good language skills is the essential feature required for a diagnosis of NVLD.

Additional characteristics often occur in children with NVLD:

Does the student…

  • have an easy time recalling facts and details, but trouble grasping the “big picture” or main idea when they read a story or see a movie?
  • have poor handwriting, difficulty tying their shoelaces, and problems using utensils and small tools?
  • have poor ability to interpret non-verbal social cues such as body in space and difficulty judging body placement in relation to others, often stand too close to someone?
  • often seem “spacey”?
  • have difficulty understanding humor or sarcasm?
  • lack meaningful friendships, despite craving them?
  • have trouble dealing with new situations?
  • have difficulty understanding the tone of an author and the meaning of idioms and metaphors?
  • get easily frustrated when working on group projects?
  • have problems organizing their ideas, writing transition sentences and identifying supporting facts when writing essays?
  • have trouble learning to tell time, the value of coins, greater-than and less-than relationships, fractions and ratios, describing shapes, and reading graphs and charts?

Children with NVLD struggle with life skills that require an understanding of spatial relationships (such as recognizing how parts fit together into a whole, completing jigsaw puzzles or building with Legos, learning routes for travel, and manipulating objects in space, such as learning to tie shoelaces), but they have strong language abilities (such as a well-developed vocabulary, the ability to learn facts from a list, and the ability to easily recall discrete elements of a narrative story). These problems in understanding part-whole relationships may create difficulties with understanding the “big picture” and with identifying the main idea in a narrative story, even though the child understands the individual words of the story or recalls its concrete details. These characteristics may make a child seem “spacey.”

When writing an essay, children with NVLD may have trouble organizing their ideas, identifying supporting facts, and writing topic or transition sentences. In history, they may be able to easily recall the facts of a timeline, but may not be able to understand or explain the cause and effect relationships between elements of the timeline.

Children with NVLD may also have difficulty learning math in school, including learning to tell time, the value of coins, greater-than and less-than relationships, understanding fractions and ratios, identifying and describing geometric shapes, and reading graphs and charts.

Children with NVLD may have trouble with fine-motor skills and learning to use tools and utensils, and may have poor handwriting. They are interested in social relationships and have the capacity for empathy, but some children with NVLD complain that they do not have satisfying friendships. They may feel isolated from others socially, even though they want friendships. Children with NVLD can have trouble understanding humor or sarcasm, which may contribute to their social problems. Children with NVLD also may have difficulty dealing with new situations that they haven’t seen or encountered before.

Poor spatial skills paired with good language skills is the essential feature required for a diagnosis of NVLD.

NVLD is often indicated when a student struggles with:

  • Handling novel problem-solving situations
  • Interacting with peers
  • Doing math problems and studying for math class
  • Staying focused
  • Making a plan for how to approach a new task

Elementary school students with NVLD may struggle with:

  • Gross motor activities like throwing a ball or riding a bike
  • Fine motor activities like cutting or letter formation
  • Understanding charts and diagrams like maps and graphs
  • Processing social signals
  • Organizing their thoughts and materials
  • Difficulties with math especially understanding fractions, geometric shapes, and sometimes word problems
  • Sensory integration, either overstimulation or a need for more stimulation