NVLD Takes Center Stage, by Ariel

By May 5, 2022 NVLD Bloggers

You may have seen the Oscars and the assault on Chris Rock and wondered, “What was that?! Why didn’t Chris step away? Couldn’t he see he was being aggressed upon?” Well, maybe not.

While most people can discern others’ nonverbal cues to assess their emotional state, Chris could not accurately perceive the anger on Will Smith’s face and the visible aggression in his gait. Chris’ difficulty in perceiving Will’s anger, shown nonverbally, likely stemmed from Chris’ Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). NVLD is a learning disorder that affects a person’s ability to read social situations as well as analyze and synthesize different channels of incoming information. Like many people with NVLD, Chris Rock struggles to understand social cues and manage social interactions.

I, too, have been diagnosed with NVLD and have trouble comprehending nonverbal communication. This difficulty causes a major roadblock since roughly 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, including body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Instead, I depend on verbal language, the seven percent of human interaction, to comprehend the meaning of others’ communications. This leaves me at a distinct disadvantage because the majority of information is difficult for me to access.

To accurately read social cues, we must be attuned to various forms of nonverbal communication: facial expressions, body language, vocal pitch, tone, as well as physical boundaries. Like many people with NVLD, I have difficulty interpreting this information. As a result, I overlook the social patterns that others register instinctively. Sometimes, the failure to notice these patterns leads me to lack the proper insight in choosing the appropriate behavioral response to a given situation.

Often, I misinterpret nonverbal cues and react to a situation inappropriately because I misunderstand the social intimations. For example, while in a meeting, I saw a woman staring at me and interpreted her gaze as angry. I asked my peers why the woman is glaring at me. After overhearing what I had said, the woman cried. I approached her and explained that I assumed from her facial expression that she disliked me and that I felt confused. She clarified that what seemed to me to be a disdainful gaze, resulted from a syndrome that causes blind spots in her vision. When I learned this, I felt terrible about my behavior and how I reacted. Shortly thereafter, I apologized. After my conversation with her, we connected over having a disability and she became one of my best friends.

Despite this positive outcome, my initial behavior was inappropriate and unintentionally hurtful. The truth is my response was rooted in a misinterpretation of nonverbal language and a defensiveness that has been born of years of such misunderstandings. Struggling to interpret the intentions, motivations, and reactions of others, can be exhausting, and repeated failure to do so successfully can leave one with anxiety in social situations.

Growing up with NVLD was tough, but as an advocate, I know that we can do better in telling the world about neurodiversity as well as the differences in how people communicate and navigate the world. If you have NVLD, talk to people, share your experiences, and tell others how best to communicate with you. If you don’t have NVLD, learn as much as you can, spread the word, and be an ally. NVLD is an invisible disorder. You never know who is struggling with it and the people you will help through your knowledge, compassion, and advocacy.


My name is Ariel Miller and I was diagnosed with NVLD when I was five years old. It has affected me throughout my life in many areas: my social life, spatial awareness, executive functioning skills, and processing speed. Last year, I graduated from NYU, earning a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing. Currently, I work at New Frontiers as a Business Associate.