What is NLD?

As a mom, I have a personal interest in learning about Nonverbal Learning Disability. By no means am I generalizing all people with NLD nor am I a self-proclaimed expert.  I’m writing for myself and others to better understand my daughter. I’m sharing my findings since there’s not a lot on the subject. I base my writing on articles, psychological assessments, and most importantly, personal experience. NLD (or NVLD) stands for Nonverbal Learning Disability. It’s a gender neutral brain disorder that affects about one percent of the population. It usually becomes increasingly obvious through maturity as life becomes more demanding. My main concern is the way NLD hinders social interaction and emotional bonding, although it affects schoolwork and learning as well. 


A person with NLD struggles with right brain processes such as relationships, concepts, patterns and ideas.  When most of us read a story or watch a film we acknowledge a theme or main idea. Someone with NLD treats all statements equally and takes each word literally. This hinders their ability to relay important pieces of information. They often seem flippant and self-centered. But it’s not a matter of not caring; it’s a matter of Just. Not. Getting it. And the sucky truth is there’s no feasible way to make other people understand. It’s not like you can tell everyone you run into “hey, I’ve got NLD, so excuse me if I come across as a condescending asshat.”  In a classroom a person with NLD may not know how to take notes because, as I said earlier, important concepts are not obvious. Instead, they’ll write every sentence word for word. Even worse, they don’t read facial expressions, body language or social cues, so relationships become strained. If you were to jokingly tell someone with NLD to go to hell with a silly smirk your face, they’d only hear the words “go to hell” and take it literally. They wouldn’t interpret the tone or smile as being playful. The result for them might be hurt feelings and you might wonder why they took your kidding around so personally. If you were pissed off at an NLD person and ignored them or rolled your eyes without verbalizing why you were upset, they might not have a clue and go about business as normal. You would assume they just don’t give a shit about you or your feelings; and you would be wrong. None of us are mind readers , but at least most of us have the ability to read body language and verbal cues.  


Remember how I said a person with NLD has difficulty grasping concepts? Well, cause and effect or action and consequences are also foreign to them. Someone with NLD acts impulsively without the capacity to think it through. Most of us know not to drink alcohol and drive, right? We know if we drink it hinders our ability to think and react, and the result could be a tragic accident and/or jail time, or death. We automatically think of all the things that could happen if we drink and drive. A person with NLD does not consider the what if’s because their brain doesn’t spell it out like ours. 


These kids often get diagnosed as having ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and have a tendency to become anxious and depressed due to the immense amount of energy is takes to try to fit in. NLD is frustrating for all involved because most of us can’t comprehend their thought process; and they can’t comprehend processes at all.  It’s a socially debilitating disability that forces a person to live in a society that makes little sense to them. Nonverbal language is part of what makes us human. Without it, it would be like living in a community of robots. Bonding would be nearly impossible.  It’s no wonder so many of these kids become obsessed with electronics, because they feel normal in a setting most of us consider dehumanizing. They fit in when they don’t have to worry about trying to interpret tone of voices, facial expressions and body language. Communicating through texts and photos is much less stressful for an NLDer because it omits many of their deficiencies and places them on a level playing field. 

Social Cues

You wouldn’t ask a person nearsighted to describe something far away and expect an accurate depiction. You wouldn’t get irritated with someone hard of hearing for asking you to repeat yourself. If you are interacting with someone with NLD, don’t expect them to decipher your message unless you verbalize it clearly and concisely. Never assume they can read your social cues. We’re all unique creatures with strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to take the time to really get to know and understand why a person acts the way they do before REACTing harshly.  We’ve all heard don’t judge a book by its cover and what I am urging is don’t judge a person by their thought process.   I’m  guilty of getting frustrated with my daughter for what seems to be an inabilty to respond and react appropriately to a variety of situations. It feels like she doesn’t care how her actions effect others. I have to constantly remind myself that her perspective is different than mine; I need to accept the difference in perception and allow her to be different.  

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