Nonverbal Learning Disabilities

A young woman with dark hair facing the viewer is looking down at an open workbook, concentrating on the illustrations contained in the book.

Learning Objectives

This module will help you to:

  1. Explain the effects of Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD) on learning in the classroom.
  2. Understand the types of accommodations or other support that can help meet the educational needs of students with NLD.
  3. Know how to support a student with NLD.


According to Rourke (1989) and Lerner (2007), students with NLD will typically have superior decoding and verbal skills yet struggle to keep up with the reading comprehension expectations for their age level. These very verbal students seem unable to make and keep friends, will speak out of turn in class, and seem to ignore the classroom management rules and social etiquette that are easily adopted by their same-age peers. They tend to struggle in mathematics and other visual-spatial activities, and experience significant difficulties when faced with novel situations.1

NLD is not found as a distinct disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). It typically falls under the category of “Learning Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.” However, Broitman and Davis (2013) would argue that these students exhibit a distinct set of deficits and strengths that fall along a spectrum not seen together in other disorders or syndromes.

Broitman and Davis (2013) and Mamen (2006) cite the following as common characteristics of NLD:

  • Strengths in verbal areas, including excellent spelling skills
  • Strong rote memory and auditory retention
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Problems with sensory sensitivity
  • Motor deficits (e.g., poor coordination, balance problems, graphomotor skills)
  • Difficulty with executive functioning (e.g., planning, monitoring, sequencing, assigning priority, organizational, problem-solving)
  • Reluctance to change routines once established
  • Trouble understanding concepts of time, distance, space, direction
  • Social deficits (e.g., social judgment and interaction, comprehending nonverbal communication, adjusting to novel situations)
  • Inability to grasp and manipulate spatial relationships in two and three dimensions
  • 1. Mamen (2006).