Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses a wide range of symptoms that sometimes overlap with signs of other neurodevelopmental disorders and learning disorders. While they may involve similar therapeutic approaches, diagnoses like Nonverbal Learning Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder are separate conditions. Most children who meet the criteria for ASD also meet the criteria for NVLD, but the opposite doesn’t appear to be true. 

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. They typically have average or above-average intelligence and can excel in the classroom but struggle with social skills and social interaction. 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

Although these issues may affect their learning, they are typically not qualified for additional support in the classroom, like someone with autism would be. Teachers may find it harder to pick up on signs of NVLD and may view students as inattentive or defiant despite their “academic potential.”

What sets it apart from Autism Spectrum Disorder?

While nonverbal learning disorders and autism spectrum disorder may overlap, there are several key differences. 

  • The main difference is that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that is associated with delays in learning, rather than academic difficulties.
  • Both disorders are associated with problems with motor skills, but it is explained in NVLD by visual-spatial organization while in autism, it is associated with sensory processing difficulties.
  • While teens with autism tend to be visual learners, teens with NVLD learn better by hearing information.
  • Teens with Nonverbal Learning Disorders typically have higher levels of social intelligence, but struggle with social anxiety and feeling different from others.

Unique Therapeutic Approach

While a diagnosis of NVLD does not make teens eligible for special education services, specialized schools can make accommodations for students according to their unique academic needs. Group therapy is an effective way for teens with NVLD to practice social skills, try new experiences, and open up about their anxiety and other mental health issues. 

Seven Stars Can Help

Discover Seven Stars RTC is a small residential treatment program for young men and women ages 13-17 struggling with learning disorders and neurodevelopmental disorders, like nonverbal learning disorder, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our program, based on positive psychology, provides acute care stabilization, academic programs, adventure-based therapy, and skill building. These various programs and therapies help students to improve their confidence, self-awareness, and personal management. Seven Stars provides students with individualized access to the resources they need to transition to the real-world practicing healthier habits and self-control. We can help your family today!
For more information about nonverbal learning disorder in teens, contact us at 844-601-1167.

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