Learning Disabilities

How to Treat the Symptoms of Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Nonverbal learning disorder is most often treated with a wide range of accommodations, strategies, and therapies. Learn more about your options for addressing manifestations of NLD in yourself or your child.

Shot of three businesswomen with ADHD working in an office
Shot of three businesswomen working in an office

As the name suggests, nonverbal learning disorder makes it difficult for individuals to sort through nonverbal information, interact with peers, and manage their time. This can make everyday situations — like hanging out with friends, going to work, or completing an assignment — challenging, particularly when the condition is undiagnosed.

Once a diagnosis has been secured, however, treatment can be tailored to the specific challenges caused by NLD. Though no universal treatment approach exists, we do know that NLD doesn’t respond to medication and that occupational therapy can be useful — particularly for people with NLD who struggle with fine motor skills. Social-skills training also holds promise for those who have difficulty interpreting facial expressions or understanding linguistic nuance. Day-to-day accommodations — at home, at school, or in the workplace — are the most common tool for managing NLD, and can be implemented with or without an IEP or a 504 Plan.

[Take This Test: Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) in Adults]
[Take This Test: Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) in Children]

Academic Interventions for Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Given the complexities of NLD, children do best when receiving help from a team of professionals including a neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, education specialist, and speech and language therapist. Talk to your child’s school about implementing some of the following formal or informal accommodations:

Social skills groups can teach kids how to interact with friends, how to stay safe around strangers, and how to recognize when they’re being teased.

Occupational therapy builds fine motor skills, and can teach the meaning and importance of facial expressions.

Typing, instead of printing, can help children with NLD who have poor handwriting to better express themselves.

Recording classroom lectures, to be replayed at a later date, can children who learn best by listening. Audio books are also helpful in this regard.

Using a daily planner can help students build time-management strategies and stay organized.

At-Home Interventions for Nonverbal Learning Disorder

“As the 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. Parents can help by doing the following:

Talk through concepts when your child seems confused. If your child asks incessant questions, agree on a specific limit to help you avoid overload. Tell your child that you can answer three questions right now, but no more — if she still has more questions on the topic after a set amount of time, agree to answer three more once the time is up.

Prepare your child in advance for big changes or daily transitions. If you’re going to the zoo, for example, discuss what path you’re going to take, when you’re going to stop for lunch, and how she can let you know if she’s stressed or uncomfortable.

Focus on your words. Children with NLD often have trouble understanding idioms, sarcasm, and the varying tones of voice neurotypical people use automatically to convey meaning. Before giving an instruction to your child, think of the most straightforward way you can word it so she’ll be able to understand. It may be challenging to break ingrained habits of speech, but your child will benefit tremendously from your efforts.

Watch for signs of overload. Allowing your child to take a break or abstain entirely from certain activities can help him get a handle on unnecessary stress and move through his day with less anxiety.

Sound daunting? According to Marcia Rubinstien, the founder of the Nonverbal Learning Disorder Association, “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.”

Workplace Accommodations for Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Adults who struggle with social or motor skills in the workplace due to NLD can ask for simple accommodations, such as:

Frequent reviews of the employee conduct policy, to reduce instances of socially inappropriate behavior.

Providing a mentor so an employee with NLD can learn the ropes from a respected superior.

Removing “mandatory” social functions, to avoid inducing anxiety in someone with NLD who is socially uncomfortable.

Providing step-by-step instructions in writing, so someone with NLD is less likely to skip steps.

Allowing employees to work from home, whenever possible.

Providing concrete examples of what work needs to be done and what should be done first.

Providing text-to-speech software, or speech-to-text software, to help someone with NLD make use of their verbal skills.

Creating a task list so the person with NLD knows what’s on their plate at any given time.