The job of helping teachers and other school personnel understand Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NLD) often falls to parents. It’s therefore important to educate yourself on how NLD manifests itself, so that you can better educate those your child relies on for help and support throughout the school day.
How does NLD show up in school?
The kind of processing typical of children with NLD presents an array of academic and behavioral challenges unexpected in bright, verbal children, including those listed below. By proactively working with the school, parents can help the staff anticipate problems and develop strategies to handle them, which in turn will lead to a better educational experience and a happier child at the end of the day.
- Black-and-white thinking and poor inferential thinking create problems with reading comprehension and following directions
- Weak visual-spatial skills lead to difficulty with math
- Problems with writing impact almost all subjects
- Intense focus on details makes it hard to get the main idea and know what to study
- Executive function weakness often results in poor organization and inflexibility
- Difficulty knowing how to break down large tasks contributes to frustration with classwork and homework
Social and Behavioral Challenges
- Poor social skills coupled with poor pragmatic language skills can lead to social isolation, teasing, and bullying
- Concrete thinking combined with inflexibility contributes to oppositional behavior
- Poor social judgment can result in inappropriate, sometimes provocative behavior, often misinterpreted as attention-seeking or rudeness
- Executive function weakness can result in impulsivity, poor emotional control, and the inability to self-monitor
- Reactions to provocations, real or perceived, can lead to disruptive behavior
- Poor coordination and spatial organization as well as poor social skills make team sports and PE frustrating
Managing these challenges in addition to the usual demands for academic performance is exhausting, which is why many children with NLD, understandably, come home from school “fried.”
Working with the School
If teachers are unfamiliar with NLD, it’s worthwhile to provide them with a short article that explains basic information about NLD.
When meeting with teachers, I recommend that parents bring a list of specific issues rather than a list of “you need to” solutions. This approach is less likely to produce defensiveness, and is more likely to engage teachers and counselors in problem solving.
Guidelines for Smart Solutions
What kinds of solutions are helpful? Step-by-step directions (clear, explicit, and verbal), academic support as needed, social coaching, strategies for addressing inflexibility and frustration, and ensuring a safe environment for learning are all important. More specifically:
If a child is focused on details, he may miss the main idea, so his work can be “in left field.”
- Break assignments down so the student knows where to start
- Provide a study guide to help prioritize information
Often children with NLD have slow processing speed, they’re exhausted from the day at school, or they don‘t “get” what to do without prompting.
- Adjust the amount and pace of homework to make it achievable
Very bright children with NLD who can talk for hours might be unable to produce several written paragraphs.
- Provide verbal and visual supports for both writing and inferential connections
These children don’t know what they miss, so they can’t ask about it.
- Establish regular, structured teacher-student meetings
Children who are inflexible are unlikely to learn flexibility from rigid consequences.
- Deal with behavioral issues in ways that don’t escalate the problems
Children with NLD face many social challenges, which makes them vulnerable to teasing, provocation, and other forms of bullying. Bullying usually takes place in “no man’s land,” the unstructured places such as halls, lunchrooms, bathrooms, and playgrounds.
- Communicate with teachers, parents and students about the social challenges
- Help students process situations with peers
- Provide clear explanations or rules
- Give sensitive feedback about behavior of which they’re unaware
- Employ strategies such as allowing a student to take breaks, pass in the hall early, and have a “safe place” to go for support
- Zero tolerance for bullying must be implemented
Although it may seem as if students with NLD need a great deal of special support at school, providing a supportive social climate and being clear, direct, and flexible are also hallmarks of good teaching, from which all students can benefit.
The author is an evaluator, consultant, and therapist who specializes in working with children with NLD.