NVLD – A Learning Disability

Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD) is a learning disability that causes difficulty with motor, visual-spatial, social skills, etc.  Individuals with NVLD are often well-spoken and can write well, but struggle with subtle social cues and comprehension of abstract concepts.

It is not uncommon for NVLD to go undiagnosed until adulthood, and Chris Rock can attest to that.  In a 2020 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he spoke about the challenges he experienced and ongoing therapy sessions.  He indicated that it was not until his friend suggested that he might have Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism, no longer recognized in the DSM-V) and underwent a comprehensive neuropsychological examination and was diagnosed with NVLD.

Lack of distinct definition as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5 (DSM-V) and the variability in its presentation from person to person has resulted in misdiagnosis and/or lack of identification.

Statistically, 65% of all communication is conveyed nonverbally.  Researchers estimated that 2.2 million to 2.9 million children and adolescents have NVLD.  Furthermore, 1 in 100 children in the United States may have NVLD.  Lastly, NVLD affects boys and girls equally (1:1).  Given these numbers, approximately 3% to 4% of individuals under 18-years-old struggle with NVLD.

Those with NVLD are at much higher risk for developing emotional difficulties, including but not limited to anxiety and depression.  The tendency to approach things with a detail-oriented process are similar to those with severe anxiety. These people tend to process details over and over, missing the bigger picture, which can result in an increased susceptibility to emotional dysregulation.

Signs of Nonverbal Learning Disorder

  • Often misses social cues such as facial expression or tone of voice, making it hard to make and keep friends
  • Needs to verbalize things to understand them
  • Struggles with reading comprehension or mathematical problem solving (fractions, geometric shapes, word problems)
  • Thinks of things in literal terms and struggles with metaphors or abstract concepts
  • Fine motor skills (using scissors, tying shoelaces, pencil grip, etc.)
  • Gross motor skills (throwing a ball, riding a bike, etc.)
  • Spatial awareness (bumping into people and things)
  • Organization and planning
  • Activities that require multitasking
  • Recalling visual information
  • Handling and understanding new and novel situations
  • Understanding charts and diagrams, like maps and graphs

Steps to Take if you Notice Signs of NVLD

  • Take notes – make note of when and where you see these behaviors, as these observations are important to have when speaking with a specialist such as a neuropsychologist.
  • Talk with child’s teacher and/or family member – bring list of concerns and ask whether these behaviors are affecting the individual’s performance.
  • Be proactive and trust your feelings – since individuals with NVLD are often articulate and well-spoken, NVLD interventions may seem unnecessary. However, the symptoms of NVLD will become more apparent with age. So, the earlier the intervention, the better.
  • Request an evaluation and/or consult with a neuropsychologist who can test the individual’s cognitive abilities including language, visual-spatial, executive functioning, motor skills, and more.

Common NVLD Myths

  • NVLD affects social skills, but not schoolwork
  • NVLD is common only among school-age children
  • Children with NVLD are not smart
  • NVLD, Autism, and ADHD are different terms for the same disorder
  • Symptoms of NVLD get better with age

If you witness the aforementioned signs and/or have concerns with learning difficulties, contact NRS-Lifespan to schedule an initial consultation.

Diagnostic clarity and appropriate treatment can help both children and adults manage NVLD symptoms for improved daily functioning and overall well-being.

Mihir J. Shah, Psy.D.
Clinical Neuropsychologist



Chris Rock Revealed He has the Learning Disorder NVLD- Here’s What that is. Retrieved from http://www.health.com/condition/neurological-disorders/vld-chris-rock-learning-disorder

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities. Learning Disabilities Association of America. Retrieved from http://Idaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/non-verbal-learning-disabilities/

Understanding Nonverbal Learning Disabilities. Understood. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/nonverbal-learning-disabilities/understanding-nonverbal-learning-disabilities

Nonverbal Learning Disorders. LD Online. Retrieved from http://www.Idonline.org/article/6114/

Nonverbal Learning Disabilities. Greatkids. Retrieved from http://www.greatschools/org/gk/articles/nonverbal-learning-disabilities/