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11th June 2023.

bugSurvey pdf file links on the Data Tracking Facility have been updated.


Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD), defined

Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) is a neurological syndrome comprised of specific assets and deficits.  Typically there is a significant difference between high verbalperformance scores (assets) and lower performance scores (deficits) on an IQ test.

NLD is usually identified around middle to late primary school, as theschool system places higher expectations on student organisation, their written language skills, self-direction, social skills and conceptual abilities. Difficulties associated with NLD affect academic skills and broader based life/ social skills.


Assets often include early speech and very good vocabulary development, excellent rote memory skills, strong auditory retention attention to detail, early reading development and strong spelling skills.  These individuals also have the verbal ability to powerfully express themselves. 


There are four major areas of deficit;

  1. Motor - lack of coordination, balance problems and difficulties with fine motor skills
  2. Visual spatial organisational - poor visual recall, problems with spatial relations and spatial perceptions, and difficulties with executive function. Executive function comprise decision making, planning, initiative, assigning priority, sequencing, motor control, emotional regulation, inhibition, problem solving, planning, impulse control, establishing goals, monitoring results of action, self-correcting, etc
  3. Social - lack of ability to understand nonverbal communication, understanding of humour, difficulties adapting to new situations, and apparent deficits in social judgment and social interaction. Characteristically, they have functional language difficulties; regulating their tone of voice, with inference, facial expression and gestures
  4. Sensory sensitivities - visual, auditory, tactile, taste or olfactory 

It appears that most individuals identified with Asperger syndrome (AS) also fit the criteria for NLD. Consequently, many argue that a diagnosis of AS is preferable because it is more useful than an NLD diagnosis. However, some hold strong opinion that while both are similar they should be considered as separate diagnoses due to fundamental differences. The result of this complexity often results in confusion by those seeking to do the very best for the child.

NLD cannot be cured, however the best approach is to develop a plan, prioritise and build a team intervention because we accept that the earlier quality interventions are provided, the better the prospects.The team may be comprised of the student’s parents, school leadership, key teachers, a child psychologist, a psychiatrist, a counsellor and perhaps interagency personnel. Although funding and resources are unlikely to be available for this diagnosis use an 'unfunded' Negotiated Education Plan model. Get the team together for regular meetings. These always reap benefit because they get everyone talking. It presents a forum to discuss options worth perusing such as;

  1. Sometimes it is wise to explain to the other children in the class about the child’s socially awkward behaviours. This can improve understanding, tolerance and strengthen class unity.
  2. Many of the kids who run into trouble at lunchtime do so because the playground is too unstructured, too exhilarating and too stressful. They can’t control their over-activity or can’t quickly interpret the social/ emotional cues of others. Many schools are trialing new ways to accommodate the kids who cannot cope with the freedoms and perils that accompany lunchtime play. By and large they are doing this by creating structured environments that are safe, support kids to find friends and develop friendship skills in a constructive guided format. Even though the possibilities are endless here several ideas to inspire:
    • Perhaps the simplest idea is for the student to be collected by a parent, a relative, a friend or a caregiver and taken home for lunch, or part of it, several days each week. This quiet time offers them respite and a chance to regroup frazzled emotions.
    • Another option is to ensure the library or resource centre is welcoming at lunchtime for those special few to retreat to.
    • Sometimes just making sure that the building blocks, the Lego, a board game, a pack of cards or the computer is available for a student and their friend for the last 15 to 20 minutes of lunch is restorative.
    • A popular idea is to organise a part of the playground so it is regularly supervised by a staff member and set up to provide students with a safer, less confronting environment. This quieter space is then promoted as the place students can go when they are feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed; no matter what, there is always someone there for them. Managed with some sports equipment and a structured activity or two students can move in and out at will. Besides enjoying the recuperative affect the safe space offers, students also like the steadiness of having an adult on hand. In one school an old bicycle shed was converted into a toy-car racing track. There is little more than a staff member, lengths of timber and old crates that students configure into racing tracks, and for them it’s the place to be! Students are invited by teachers based on their age, social style and likelihood of connecting with the others.
    • Regular lunchtime interest groups for students have long been of assistance. The kids who live on the fringe of social groups in the playground are often the first to take advantage the clubs; science, environment, plants and propagation, cooking, rock and mineral, chess, drama, darts, model trains, photography, gardening, charity, car, choir, karate, warhammer, music and band to mention a few. The structure found within clubs is comforting for them.
  3. Involvement in a formal social-skills training program where students are explicitly taught how to think and behave pro-socially; how toestablish friendships, how to maintain friendships, and how to handle teasing, aggression and peer rejection.

Some of our favourite programmes beyond What's the Buzz? are;

Bounce Back,

Cool Kids Program,

Friendly schools and Families,

Friends For Life,

Resourceful Adolescent Program (RAP),

Rock and Water Program,

Seasons for Growth,

Stop Think Do Social Skills Training,

The Peer Support Program,

Thinking, Feeling, Behaving,

You Can Do It Education,

Outcomes from meetings do not have to be perfect solutions, but ideas that are workable and progressive often make a world of difference. It can be uplifting for students to meet with their team from time to time. For students to see and hear each team member caring, participating and wanting the very best for them can be therapeutic.Teams that do best also value the idea of team maintenance. In other words, everyone within the team takes care of one another because they openly acknowledge this is hard work.

Helpful links