Prevalence of Nonverbal Learning Disorder is Underestimated in Teens

Home Executive Functioning Prevalence of Nonverbal Learning Disorder is Underestimated in Teens

According to a recent study led by Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) may be one of the most common learning disorders among children in the United States. Despite the prevalence among teens, Nonverbal Learning Disorder is often misunderstood, as there is some overlap between more common neurodevelopmental disorders, like Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

What is Nonverbal Learning Disorder?

People who struggle with nonverbal learning disorders may have strong verbal skills, such as reading or writing, but struggle with abstract thinking and processing visual information. This is explained by difficulties with visual-spatial organization rather than sensory processing difficulties. Due to their strong verbal skills, teens with NVLD learn better by hearing information or having opportunities to participate in class discussions. They typically have average or above-average intelligence and can excel in the classroom but struggle with nonverbal social cues and social interaction. While they are more likely to have higher levels of social intelligence, they struggle with social anxiety and feeling different from others. Like with autism, symptoms often change or become more noticeable as children get older. As young children, kids with NVLD may seem bright and precocious because they have good verbal skills. 

Signs of NVLD may include:


  • Close attention to detail but difficulty understanding the bigger picture or main ideas
  • Remembers information but doesn’t know why it’s important
  • Early language development and auditory learning style
  • Difficulty decoding body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions
  • Takes things literally and misses sarcasm
  • Shares information in socially inappropriate ways
  • Fearful of new situations and has trouble adjusting to changes
  • Trouble with visual tasks, like puzzles or legos
  • Difficulty interpreting and information, like equations, schedules, or routes


Why is There a Lack of Information about NVLD?

Unlike similar neurodevelopmental disorders and learning disorders, Nonverbal Learning Disorder is not included in the Diagnostical Statistical Manual. The researchers of this study found that many of the children were identified as having ADHD or anxiety disorders, which are more likely to be co-occurring with NVLD but may not entirely explain symptoms, or misdiagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“The name of this neurodevelopmental disorder may be part of the problem: children with NVLD are not nonverbal, as the name suggests, and have no difficulty reading,” explains lead author Amy E. Margolis, PhD, assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Instead, children with NVLD have difficulty processing visual-spatial sensory information, which can cause problems with math, executive function, and fine motor and social skills.”

Margolis advises parents to seek evaluation for children with symptoms of NVLD in order to better understand their difficulties with processing visual-spatial information. She believes that an accurate diagnosis can be accomplished using basic learning assessment tools and neuropsychological testing, rather than traditional psychological testing.

The Importance of a Multidisciplinary Team

Symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders vary individual to individual, so finding the right type of therapy for your teenager can feel challenging. Many of our students have failed to flourish in the “one size fits all” atmosphere of a traditional classroom, but our treatment team recognizes and celebrates every student’s individuality.  

New Focus Academy is a unique residential treatment center that uses neuropsychological assessments and principles of resiliency psychology and positive psychology to help students develop practical life skills as they become more independent. Our academic programming makes accommodations for students with a wide range of learning needs. 

In addition to working with a primary therapist, students at New Focus Academy work closely with various members of our clinical team to address learning differences through a holistic lens, including our: 

  • Special Education Director
  • Psychological and Neurodevelopmental Consultant
  • Behavior Analyst
  • Speech and Language Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist

Each student’s customized treatment plan is overseen by a knowledgeable, friendly coach with years of experience helping students succeed. Coaches get to know their students well, building rapport and establishing trust as the relationship develops, and offer a helpful hand or a friendly shoulder when the student needs one.

New Focus Academy Can Help 

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism spectrum disorder, other neurodevelopmental disorders, and learning disorders such as ADHD. The program utilizes positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence.Our academic program teaches Utah’s Common Core Curriculum with a focus on Essential Elements, such as life skills, functional math and language arts skills, community based living skills, and social-emotional skills.  The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interaction, organization, and improve their self-management. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits. 

For more information about how New Focus can help with nonverbal learning disorder in teens, call 844-313-6749. We can help your family today!