Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (adapted from the Learning Disabilities Association of America; Note that some consider this disorder to be part of the autism spectrum and not a unique condition itself. See

Signs and Symptoms

  • Has trouble recognizing facial expression or body language and other nonverbal cues
  • Shows poor psycho-motor coordination: clumsy, seems to be constantly “getting in the way”, or bumping into people and objects
  • Using fine motor skills is a challenge: struggles tying shoes, writing, using scissors
  • Needs to verbally label everything that happens to understand circumstances, spatial orientation, directional concepts and coordination; often lost or tardy
  • Has difficulty coping with changes in routing and transitions
  • Has difficulty generalizing previously learned information
  • Has difficulty following multi-step instructions
  • Makes very literal translations
  • Asks too many questions, may be repetitive and inappropriately interrupt the flow of a lesson
  • Imparts the “illusion of competence” because of student’s strong verbal skills


  • Rehearse getting from place to place
  • Minimize transitions and give several verbal cues before transition
  • Avoid assuming student will automatically generalize instructions or concept
  • Verbally point out similarities, differences and connections; number and present instructions in sequence; simplify and break down abstract concepts, explain metaphors, nuances, and multiple meanings in reading material
  • Answer student’s questions when possible, but let them know a specific number (three versus a few) and that you can answer three more at recess or after school
  • Allow the child to abstain from participating in activities at signs of overload
  • Thoroughly prepare the child in advance for field trips, or other changes, regardless of how minimal
  • Implement a modified schedule or creative programming
  • Never assume student understands something because he or she can “parrot back” what you have just said
  • Offer added verbal explanations when the child seems lost or registers confusion

General Discussion

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