NLD on the Web!


Nonverbal Learning Disorder: Common Characteristics


by Pamela B. Tanguay



The purpose of this article is to provide a quick overview of the common characteristics of Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD).  NLD is unique in that the child appears to "grow into" the disability.  Although the disability itself does not change, as more abstract demands are placed on the child in the upper elementary grades, the severity of the disorder may become quite pronounced.


Academic Performance

  • WISC Verbal IQ is often higher than the Performance IQ.
  • Strong to exceptional vocabulary and more than typical verbal expression.
  • Strong to exceptional auditory rote memory skills.
  • Excellent attention to detail, but not so for the big picture.
  • The individual may be an early reader, OR may have early reading difficulties.  Common difficulty with reading comprehension beginning in the upper elementary grades, especially for novel material.
  • Difficulties in math are common, especially in the areas of word problems and abstract applications.
  • Concept formation and abstract reasoning may be significantly impaired.
  • Significant difficulty generalizing information - e. g. applying learned information to new or novel situations.
  • Generally they are auditory, unimodal learners (may not look or write while processing).

Social Interaction

  • Process at a very concrete level and interpret information quite literally.
  • Significant weakess processing nonverbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice.
  • Unable to intuit what is not specifically stated.
  • May present as uncooperative.
  • Tremendous difficulty with fluid or difficult social interactions.
  • Lack "street smarts" - can be incredibly naive.


  • Appear to lack coordination - do better in individual rather than team sports.
  • Impaired fine motor skills - handwriting may be poor and/or laborious.
  • Significant problems with spatial perception are common.
  • Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle, catch and/or kick a ball, hop and/or skip.


  • Anxiety and/or depression may be quite severe, especially during adolescence.
  • Individuals tend to be withdrawn by middle school, and may actually become agoraphobic.
  • Cannot readily adapt to new situations, or changes to routine.
  • Self-esteem problems are common.  Increased incidence of suicide within the NLD population.



Nonverbal Learning Disabilities:  The Syndrome and the Model, Byron P. Rourke, 1989, The Guilford Press, NY


No One to Play With:  The Social Side of Learning Disabilities, Betty B. Osman, 1982, Random House, NY


Star Shaped Pegs, Square Holes, Kathy Allen, Unicycle Press, 1076 Lynn St., Livermore, CA 94550.


Syndrome of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities:  Neurodevelopmental manifestations,  B.P. Rourke (Ed.), 1995, The Guilford Press, NY


The Source for Nonverbal Learning Disorders (formerly called "I Shouldn't Have to Tell you!  A Guide to Understanding Nonverbal Learning Disorders"), Sue Thompson, M.A., C.E.T., 1997, LinguiSystems Inc.


When You Worry About the Child You Love:  Emotional and Learning Problems in Children, Edward Hallowell, 1996, Simon & Schuster, NY


Nonverbal learning disabilities and remedial interventions, J.M.Foss, 1991, Annals of Dyslexia, Vol. 41, pgs. 128-140.


Nonverbal Learning Disorders, S.Thompson, 1996, Fall/Winter edition of The Gram, LDA-CA


Treatment Programme for the Child with NLD, B.P. Rourke, 1993, Byron P. Rourke, Ph.D., Dept. of Psychology, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada  N9B 3P4


Assessing and Diagnosing the Individual with Nonverbal Learning Disorders (auditape), from the Nonverbal Learning Disorders Symposium, California, 1996. 


Educational Interventions for the Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorders (audiotape), from the Nonverbal Learning Disorders Symposium, California, 1996.


Making Sense of Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (transcript), Ray Petrauskas, Annual Conference of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, 1995


The Nonverbal Disabilities:  Dense, Dyslogic, Self-Defeating, E. Westhead, J. Blalock (transcript), K.N. Gregg, International Conference of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, 1990. 


The Hand, Handwriting, and the Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorders (audiotape), from the Nonverbal Learning Disorders Symposium California, 1996.


Copyright:  Pamela B. Tanguay, 2010

This article is posted on NLD on the Web! with permission of the author, who retains the rights to this article.  Please contact the author for any use of it other than for individual educational purposes.