Why Nonverbal Learning Disorder Is So Often Mistaken for ADHD

Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) might be the most overlooked — and underdiagnosed — learning disability, in part becuase it's symptoms look so much like ADHD. Poor social and fine-motor skills, inattention, trouble organizing thoughts — learn if these might be signs of NLD in your child.

Team Approach

Given the complexities of NLD, children do best when they get help from a team of professionals, including a neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, education specialist, and a speech and language therapist.

"As a parent of a child with NLD, you are your child's primary therapist," said Sue Thompson, the late author of The Source for Nonverbal Learning Disorders (LinguiSystems).

Unlike ADHD, NLD usually does not respond to medication. But NLD children often do well with various other kinds of intervention:

  • Social skills groups can help teach kids how to greet a friend, how to greet a stranger, and how to recognize and respond to teasing.
  • Occupational therapy builds a child's tolerance for tactile experiences, improves balance, and enhances fine motor skills.
  • Typing instruction software, like Jump Start Typing ($19.99), can help kids compensate for poor handwriting.
  • Recorded books are key for kids who learn by listening. Recording classroom lectures may also be helpful.
  • Using a daily planner can help students improve organizational skills. Sound daunting? According to Rubinstien, "Helping a child with NLD is like learning a new language. Once you learn it, you can give your child the tools he needs to win."

How's Marci Now?

Marci, now 15, is in tenth grade. Her academic performance has improved, and she finished her freshman year of high school with a B average. But Marci still needs help with organization and, especially, with social skills.

As recommended in her Individualized Education Program, Marci is now "shadowed" by an education specialist for several school periods. Because auditory memory is one of her strengths, Marci tapes classroom lectures to listen to later and subscribes to a "books on tape" service. Several afternoons a week, Marci participates in a social skills group.

Now that her parents, classmates, and teachers recognize the biological basis of her behavioral problems, she's treated with understanding. "She even has a best friend now," says her mom, smiling. "It's wonderful to hear the two of them complaining to each other, just like typical teenagers."


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TAGS: Learning Disabilities, Comorbid Conditions with ADD, Diagnosing Children with ADHD

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