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Dealing with a Nonverbal Learning Disability

written by: Sharilyn Rose • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/11/2012

What would it be like to not be able to read people's facial expressions, or understand body language? That is what it is like for those with a nonverbal learning disability. Read on to learn more.

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    What is It?

    Question Mark What exactly is a nonverbal learning disability? What are the signs and symptoms to look out for? Are there any other disabilities associated with it? Also, how can teachers meet the needs of this type of student in the classroom? First, let’s take a look at what a nonverbal learning disability is.

    Typically, this type of disability begins presenting itself when a child is in the developmental stages. According to LD Online, children with this disorder have a hard time recognizing and understanding nonverbal cues, such as gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. It can be thought of as having difficulty understanding nonverbal communication. These students will typically talk to themselves a lot as they are talking themselves through what they are thinking.

    Some signs that a student may have a learning disability are: trouble with coordination, fine and gross motor problems, short attention span, difficulty following instructions, difficulties with reading, writing, spelling, and math, difficulty understanding abstract topics, such as time, and frequently misplacing things. These are just a few things to look out for in students with a nonverbal learning disability.

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    Associated Disorders

    There are some disabilities that are associated with nonverbal learning disabilities, such as: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, depression, anxiety, and emotional disorders. These are just a few of the common conditions that can be found to co-exist with a nonverbal learning disorder.

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    In the Classroom

    Most of these student require and Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This will provide them with the proper education that they deserve. They will receive accommodations specifically designed for their needs which will help them with their disability. Some of these students are able to be fully included in the regular education classroom, but the IEP team needs to decide which placement is right for the student.

    Students with a nonverbal learning disability become experts at coping with their disability. They have been able to teach themselves to “overcome" it, so it can be extremely difficult to help them in the classroom because they hide it so well. They need to receive specific instruction in understanding nonverbal communication. This can be done in a special education setting, which is usually where the student is already because of some of the coexisting conditions. Teachers need to patient with these students, as it takes them a little longer to respond. They need extra time to process information, as well. Teaching them at a slower pace will help them to comprehend information.

    Imagine going through a day without understanding nonverbal communication. How frustrating would that be? A little patience and understanding goes a long way when working with these students.

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    Image: Question Mark by desi.italy, under CC by 2.5.

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