Jenny is a verbal, articulate, and hardworking student who, despite her best efforts, never is able to achieve results commensurate with her efforts. Her teachers and parents are puzzled because she seems so bright. Yet, her test scores are not congruent with expectations.
Jenny, like many individuals with nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD), has good or even superior verbal language and auditory retention, and rote memory skills. Yet, her nonverbal processing skills (visual-spatial-organizational), particularly poor visual recall and faulty spatial perception, interfered with many areas of her academic work. For example, the visual-spatial difficulties she was experiencing caused problems for her in reading such that she misread words, or omitted or substituted others. Moreover, these problems slowed her reading speed, and caused her to miss details in what she had read, compromising her ability to comprehend. All of this occurred despite the fact that her vocabulary and spelling were in the above average range! In math, Jenny made many careless mistakes in doing simple computation problems because these same visual-spatial deficits caused her to place numbers in the wrong columns or put decimal points in the wrong place. While Jenny’s capacity to remember over learned/rote material was good, her inability to visualize information that she had to store and then retrieve in order to problem solve was severely effected. Unable to “see” the information, she could not recall it or manipulate it in her head in order to solve problems.
Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) interfere with the processing of novel and complex information as well. For Jenny, while she was able to perform at a superior level in over learned areas like defining words or recalling information that she had accumulated from years of schooling, she had great difficulty discriminating between essential and nonessential details. This is an important skill that is necessary in tasks like taking notes in class where students must be able to discern what is important and write it down. Since Jenny could not identify what was important to know, she felt pressured to compulsively get down everything her teacher said in her notes. This difficulty working with conceptual material extended to problems in organizing her thoughts when she had to write an essay or a report. Needless to say, the emotional fallout from these nonverbal processing difficulties is considerable, resulting in mental exhaustion from having to work harder than everyone else, frustration, low self-esteem, and anxiety.
The first step in addressing potential NVLD difficulties is a thorough psycho-educational evaluation where the roots of an individual’s achievement problems could be identified and recommendations could be made to address each concern. For example, individuals with NVLD can use their superior verbal capacity to talk through with a parent, teacher, tutor, or peer their academic assignments and how to organize them. Making information meaningful so it can be encoded in verbal fashion and arranging it sequentially as individuals with NVLD often have trouble with sequential processing may help with memory problems due to poor visualization skills. Some individuals with NVLD have difficulty picking up social cues since this often involves using visual-spatial skills in identifying faces and facial expressions. They tend to overuse their verbal skills and talk incessantly, resulting in negative feedback from peers. These individuals are excellent candidates for talk therapy to use these superior verbal skills to help them to gain an emotional awareness of their behavior. A psycho-educational evaluation will also screen for other co-morbid disorders (i.e. ADHD; specific learning disabilities) that often accompany NVLD.