​Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD) is a type of learning disorder that does not typically result in difficulties with speech or writing skill, but does cause complications in the development of social skills. 

Children who have been diagnosed with this disorder usually have normal speech development and begin to talk around the expected age (around 2 years old). They also often possess great memorization skills which are required for reading and spelling. However one of the main symptoms of nonverbal learning disorder is that it causes difficulties with forming relationships, stemming from poor social skills. For instance, they may face difficulties because they tend to voice their opinions and views in a way that might be considered socially inappropriate. They have troubles comprehending social cues (e.g. subtle, nonverbal cues) that many take for granted; therefore they are often misunderstood by those who are unaware of their diagnosis. 

Furthermore, another trait is that those diagnosed with nonverbal learning disorder are usually poor visual learners, meaning that they struggle with comprehending and learning from the visual environment (e.g. body languages, facial expressions or tone of voice). Yet, these individuals tend to be great at memorizing and recalling information that they hear. 

The main sing of NVLD is poor social skills. However it includes other symptoms that cause difficulties with reading ability, writing, solving math problems, and/or physical coordination. If you suspect that your child has NVLD, some of the symptoms that you may notice could include: 

  • Poor understanding of non-verbal cues, such as subtle facial expressions or body language 

  • Poor social skills

  • Great with memorizing information they hear

  • Great vocabulary and is good with verbal expression  

  • Paying great attention to little details but fails to look at the bigger picture 

  • Difficulty with reading comprehension

  • Having trouble with math problems, especially those that are worded ​

  • Has untidy handwriting 

  • Displays poor psycho-motor coordination: is uncoordinated, clumsy and may be physically awkward 

  • Has a problem with fine motor skills, such as tying their shoelaces or buttoning up their shirt.

  • Lacks abstract thinking and tends to think more in literal and exact terms

  • May express themselves or share information in socially unfitting ways

  • Tends to stand too close to people and invades personal space 

  • Is unaware of other people’s reactions and the consequences of actions ​

  • Is fearful and apprehensive of new social situations 

  • Has difficulty with adjusting to changes

  • May suffer from anxiety or depression 

The symptoms that a child with NVLD displays will tend to change over time and become more obvious as they grow older. The earlier these symptoms are realized, the fewer the chances that your child will develop anxiety due to the troubles that come with this disorder.​

It might be difficult to notice the symptoms of nonverbal learning disorders at a young age. This is because like most children, they will tend to be very inquisitive and eager to learn. They often have great memory and verbal communication skills, meaning that they may be able to do sufficiently well early on at school. However, symptoms of NVLD become more noticeable as your child grows older. Higher order reasoning, relationship development, social situations, social cues and other nonverbal communication become more of a challenge and school may become a struggle. Your child may act out, or even develop anxiety or depression. 

If you notice any of these signs or other symptoms of NVLD, it is strongly advised that your take your child to a specialist (e.g. a psychologist or neuropsychologist) working with the Mind and Brain Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital to be evaluated and diagnosed. The sooner your child is diagnosed, the better the outcome of treatment.​

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.​

Most often children with NVLD also have another disorder, such as autism or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). However, you can still have your child evaluated to see whether they have NVLD or another learning disability. 

The healthcare professional will start by conducting a medical examination, asking about symptoms, medical history, family medical history with learning disabilities, and any other major health related information. The doctor will conduct tests to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms, and may refer you to another specialist, such as a neurologist, for further analysis. 

Your child will then undergo a range of tests to evaluate their aptitude in speech in language, visual-spatial organization and motor skills. 

The specialist will take the finding from each of these and combine them to give a final diagnosis.​

If your child has been diagnosed with NVLD, there a number options that your doctor might recommend. Extra help, such as a reading specialist, tutor or other professional can guide and teach your child methods of improving his or her academic skills. 

They may recommend therapy, in order to improve some of the skills that are compromised due to the disorder. Thus they may recommend therapies such as occupational therapy in order to improve fine motor skills. Social skills can also be taught to kids in a group setting, so that social situations become less daunting. It may also be recommended that parents undergo behavioural training, in order to help them with how to help kids with learning disabilities. 

Medication might be prescribed, in order to reduce the effect of some of the symptoms of NVLD such as anxiety or depression. ​

The progress and process of treatment should be closely monitored, in order to see if the methods used are effective or if there should be an alteration. Although have NVLD or any other learning disability presents great challenges throughout one’s lifetime, there is no reason why there can’t be great improvement with early intervention and professional treatment.​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​




​The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.