A Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD) results from disordered functioning in the right hemisphere of the brain, which processes nonverbal information. This includes the processing of visual-spatial, organizational, and holistic information. NLD is unique in that the child appears to “grow into” the disability. Although the disability itself does not change, as more abstract demands are placed on the child in the upper elementary grades, the severity of the disorder may become quite pronounced.

Characteristics of NVLD

Academic Performance

  • WISC Verbal IQ is often higher than the Performance IQ.
  • Strong to exceptional vocabulary and more than typical verbal expression.
  • Strong to exceptional auditory rote memory skills.
  • Excellent attention to detail, but not so for the big picture.
  • The individual may be an early reader, OR may have early reading difficulties. Common difficulty with reading comprehension beginning in the upper elementary grades, especially for novel material.
  • Difficulties in math are common, especially in the areas of word problems and abstract applications.
  • Concept formation and abstract reasoning may be significantly impaired.
  • Significant difficulty generalizing information – e.g., applying learned information to new or novel situations.
  • Generally they are auditory, unimodal learners (may not look or write while processing).

Social Interaction

  • Process at a very concrete level and interpret information quite literally.
  • Significant weakness processing nonverbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice.
  • Unable to intuit what is not specifically stated.
  • May present as uncooperative.
  • Tremendous difficulty with fluid or difficult social interactions.
  • Lack “street smarts” – can be incredibly naïve.


  • Appear to lack coordination – do better in individual rather than team sports.
  • Impaired fine motor skills – handwriting may be poor and/or laborious.
  • Significant problems with spatial perception are common.
  • Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle, catch and/or kick a ball, hop and/or skip.


  • Anxiety and/or depression may be quite severe, especially during adolescence.
  • Individuals tend to be withdrawn by middle school, and may actually become agoraphobic.
  • Cannot readily adapt to new situations, or changes to routine.
  • Self-esteem problems are common. Increased incidence of suicide within the NLD population.