The Black and White World of the NLD Child

By Marcia Rubinstien, MA, CEP


Children with NLD tend to view the world in black and white, which is a recipe for frustration and negativity • To help your child achieve a healthier balance, “gray up” her world by teaching adaptive problem-solving skills

2.3.4 black and whiteMiddle school can be tough. You’re either cool or you’re not; popular or dorky; in or out. Some kids make the cut, while others choose not to play the game. But for many children with NLD who cannot read social cues or interpret nonverbal nuances, the chance to compete is not even an option. By virtue of the challenges, they’re sidelined before the game begins.

Downward Cycle

Children with NLD assess the world in terms of black or white: classes are excellent or terrible; friends are best or worst; information is priceless or worthless.

Looking at everything through that all-or-nothing prism often results in negativity when they perceive things to be less-than-perfect; as negativity builds up it can become a catalyst for anxiety and frustration leading to a downward spiral that’s hard to manage for anyone, let alone a middle-schooler in the throes of early adolescence.

As if social uncertainty were not enough to ruin a few good years, middle school can be a daily nightmare of organizational, visual-spatial, motor and conceptual minefields for kids with NLD.

They struggle to find classrooms, remember locker combinations, and navigate through the cafeteria with a tray, a backpack, and a prayer that nothing will spill to further cement their status as losers.

A Better Balance

Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, suggests that we need to “gray up” these children to help them understand that there are possibilities for viable life along the spectrum between black and white. In essence, Greene maintains we need to teach them to be more flexible, which in turn will help them achieve a better balance.

To do that Greene uses Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS; formerly called Collaborative Problem Solving), a research-based method that also works well for children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

CPS involves uncovering the reasons for a child’s inflexibility, which may require a comprehensive assessment. Once the underlying issues are understood, the next step is to work collaboratively to help your child develop problem-solving skills.

Greene maintains, “Kids do well if they can.” By definition, the deficits associated with NLD make it difficult for your child to “do well.” But instead of punishing challenging behavior or using top-down, authoritative problem-solving techniques (“because I said so”)—neither of which serves your inflexible child well—CPS provides a process to work out problems together, and in the process, help your child develop the skills to adapt to a gray world.

Other Ways to Help Your Child with NLD
What else can you do to minimize the challenges facing your middle-schooler with NLD?
  • Make sure that the diagnosis of NLD is supported by current testing and that experts have suggested appropriate academic and social accommodations
  • Learn as much as you can about NLD so that you will have knowledge and information to help ease your child’s anxiety
  • Do everything you can to make home a safe, consistent, and loving haven for your child
  • If you believe that your school system is not acknowledging your child’s needs demand an alternative setting

For more information on CPS visit Greene’s website at

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