Getting School Help for NLD Kids


My child’s school doesn’t seem to understand NLD and is reluctant to provide appropriate services. How can I get her the help she needs?

                                                            Anonymous St. Paul, MN

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Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.

Marcia Eckerd is an evaluator, consultant, and therapist who specializes in working with children with NLD and autism-spectrum disorders.

This is not a problem unique to your child’s school. Children with Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD) often have difficulty with higher level language skills, writing and math, executive functions, and social skills. But because NLD isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis or completely accepted as a learning disability, knowledge about it is limited among professionals and, therefore, not accepted by many school districts.

The strategy I use with reluctant school districts is to diagnose specific learning differences. If your child’s school is willing to evaluate her higher-level language skills, other areas of recognized LD, and executive functions, the result is likely to indicate she is a candidate for Special Education services based on identified accepted problems in reading comprehension, writing, math, executive functions, etc.

Addressing Social Challenges

Having children get appropriate help for social issues has always been challenging. But now the DSM-V (latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has a new diagnosis, Social Communication Disorder (see below), which covers many of the social challenges children with NLD often exhibit. An independent professional can make this diagnosis if the school won’t.

Getting services for social challenges is critical because the quality of a child’s life and the potential for long-term life success is heavily determined by social skills.

DSM-V Social Communication Disorder Criteria
  1. Persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication as manifested by all of the following:
  • Deficits in using communication for social purposes, such as greeting and sharing information, in a manner that is appropriate for social context.
  • Impairment in the ability to change communication to match context or the needs of the listener, such as speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground, talking differently to a child than to an adult, and avoiding use of overly formal language.
  • Difficulties following rules for conversation and storytelling, such as taking turns in conversation, rephrasing when misunderstood, and knowing how to use verbal and nonverbal signals to regulate interaction.
  • Difficulties understanding what is not explicitly stated (e.g., making inferences) and nonliteral or ambiguous meaning of language (e.g., idioms, humor, metaphors, multiple meanings that depend on the context for interpretation.)
  1. The deficits result in functional limitations in effective communication, social participation, social relationships, academic achievement, or occupational performance, individually or in combination.
  2. The onset of the symptoms is in the early developmental period (but deficits may not become fully manifest until social communication demands exceed limited capacities).
  3. The symptoms are not attributable to another medical or neurological condition or to low abilities in the domains of word structure and grammar, and are not better explained by autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder), global developmental delay, or another mental disorder.

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