Non Verbal / Right Hemispheric Learning Disorders

The landscape of diagnostic understanding regarding right hemispheric learning disorders, Nonverbal Learning Disorders (NLD), Aspergers, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remains murky. We, and other professionals (NVLD Project) do not believe the current diagnostic framework captures the nuanced patterns of strength and weaknesses for students impacted by this general category of issues. We hope that over time the clarity around these sometimes overlapping disorders is clarified in DSM and common usage in a manner more in keeping with the long-standing history of the neuropsychological model as opposed to the politically convenient one of the day. The current notion of “ASD” is not aligned with our comprehensive understanding of this constellation of disorders and we are working with other researchers to rectify this.

Nonverbal learning disorders are characterized by a combination of neuropsychological deficits. NLD is a spectrum of disorders characterized by variations in severity. NLD is a pervasive and overlapping school and social problem characterized by difficulties with reasoning and comprehension, socialization and communication, visual spatial tasks, mathematics and executive functions. Primary assets frequently include auditory perception, rote verbal memory and some simple motor and psychomotor skills. Socio-emotional deficits include adaption to novelty, social competence, emotional stability and activity level. NLD is not one of the official diagnoses mental health professionals and schools use to categorize kids with learning problems. Students with a NLD usually have other diagnoses—often autism or ADHD. But while those diagnoses list their symptoms or behaviors, they don’t fully explain them. A child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will be described as having social and communication deficits. Those behaviors, too, can reflect a NLD, but that diagnoses doesn’t identify the other important areas where they may be struggling (higher-order comprehension, math concepts, and visual spatial relations). Unless a NLD is recognized, students are not likely to get help that strengthens or compensates for weaknesses in those core areas.

Learn more through our joint blog post with Child Mind Institute here (What is Non-Verbal Learning Disorder).