Let’s Learn: Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

If the term NVLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disability) is unfamiliar, we are here to change that today! Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities are learning disabilities where an individual has deficits in visual-spatial abilities and math, often contradicting their strong verbal skills. It is estimated that these disabilities are present to some degree in 99% of females with TS. Let’s dive into what an NVLD is, the experiences of those who live with NVLDs, and how the professional community is getting involved.

What is a Non-Verbal Learning Disability?

Non-verbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD) can range widely in their severity and the ways in which they affect those who live with them. Most NVLDs involve a contrast between verbal and visual-spatial abilities. Those with NVLDs frequently have strong communication and linguistic skills, but face challenges in areas such as math, visual spatial reasoning, fine motor skills, attention span, and understanding social cues. Most women with TS have NVLD, though the level of difficulty and the areas of difficulty change from person to person.

According to Elizabeth Shoiry (M.ED.), the early signs of NVLD in a child include profound development of vocabulary combined with a struggle to crawl and use other fine motor skills. These characteristics continue to be seen as a child enters school, presenting difficulties with fine motor skills and understanding numericity. For example, Dyscalculia is an NVLD which makes it difficult for an individual to grasp arithmetic concepts and correctly calculate equations. On the other hand, Dsygraphia makes it difficult for the individual to produce legible lettering and print when writing due to difficulties in gripping and controlling a pencil. Learning how to ride a bicycle, driving a car, and tying shoelaces often involve additional challenges for those with NVLDs as well

Learning how to ride a bicycle, driving a car, and tying shoelaces often involve additional challenges for those with NVLDs as well.

The Challenges of NVLDs

Some of the most difficult parts of living with an NVLD are the difficulties one faces in academic and social situations.

Generally, NVLDs are not well understood and most have never heard of it. This can not only make it very challenging to receive a diagnosis, but schools are largely unprepared for assisting students who have them. Available resources for those with NVLDs are largely found within occupational therapy, but this mostly assists with visual spatial reasoning and fine motor skills. Furthermore, insurance does not always cover occupational therapy and may not be accessible to every student who needs it.

Another concern is that there are only a few resources in the U.S. to properly address dyscalculia, a common NVLD which affects math skills. School accommodations may assist students but may not help them at truly learning the subject, making it difficult for students to receive optimal scores on standardized tests such as the SATs.

Because these learning disabilities are largely unknown, it can make it very difficult for other people to understand the limitations they bring. One woman with TS with several NVLDs has said that when trying to explain her learning disabilities to others, they usually assume she is joking or falsifying. Consequently, she subjects to hiding her challenges in order to avoid judgment. This can be stressful when some of her challenges are not typically seen as struggles, such as folding items neatly or lining up objects evenly.

Many people with NVLDs can also experience difficulties understanding social cues and making friends. One brave 12-year-old shared with the NVLD Project, “It is extremely difficult to avoid this scrimmage between me and myself…I try to be more like them and not like me. I am never sincere with myself and what I believe in.” 

Abby Bell also shared her NVLD story as a 21-year-old student in November of 2017. She said that living with an NVLD can cause one to feel misunderstood in their everyday lives. For example, Bell explains that she prefers in-person verbal communication over texting since it can be difficult to interpret a message and understand the other person’s perspective. Bell urges viewers to remember that those with NVLDs do not misunderstand body language and social cues, or struggle with arithmetic and motor skills, intentionally. 

Insight from the Experts

Though NVLDs are not a common point of discussion, there are rising efforts to spread awareness. As a testament to this, professionals from Columbia University Medical Center partnered with the NVLD Project to discuss their work and how they’re approaching their research. 

Assistant Professor of Psychiatric Social Work, Dr. Prudence Fisher, notes that it has historically been difficult for those with NVLDs to seek treatment because there is no clear diagnosis for them. As a result, NVLDs can go unrecognized and without proper care. Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology, Dr. Amy Margolis, adds that researchers and medical professionals are aiming to pinpoint the neuroscience behind NVLDs so they can find the best way to support those affected. 

Though there is still a large amount of research to be done, professionals working with students with NVLDs have already pinpointed some methods to effectively assist students in the classroom. The NVLD Project, founded by Dr. Laura Lemle of the Columbia University Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, suggests that to help with teaching math, students should use their verbal skills to narrate every math step. They also suggest that teachers include sample problems on the top of assignments.

Why We Need More Awareness For NVLDs

educators for girls with Turner Syndrome

Increasing awareness and understanding of NVLDs is an essential step towards resources and acceptance for those with these disabilities. There are only a few resources in the U.S. for NVLDs, and awareness could allow those affected to finally access the resources they need to succeed and feel comfortable in their day-to-day lives. Sharing knowledge, stories, and research will help peel back the veil placed over these learning disorders.

Resources

TSF offers teacher’s guides in order to help educators teach students affected with NVLDs. If you know a teacher or student that can benefit, order them now. Additionally, students may find relatability in reading of another’s experience in Growing Up with Turner Syndrome and NVLD. Other resources for learning more about NVLDs are listed below. 

Please remember to always be mindful and kind to yourself and others let’s create a strong community where we can discuss topics such as NVLDs and make a difference.  

Sources

TSF Resources

Written by Canon Pham, TSF volunteer blog writer. Edited by Riya Ajmera, TSF Blog Coordinator. Designed by Delvis Rodriguez and Nicole Elwell, TSF volunteer blog designers.

© Turner Syndrome Foundation, 2023

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