Nonverbal and Visual Learning Disabilities

Nonverbal Learning Disability is defined as “A neurological disorder in which nonverbal communication such as holistic processing, visual/special perception and reasoning, intuitive responding, and organization are impaired. They lack many concepts and much of the understanding needed for commonplace interactions and learning.” (Rourke, 1995; Sheely, 2000; Thompson, 1997).

There are seven main categories of deficit manifestation associated with Nonverbal Learning Disability. They are visual-spatial, cognitive processing, language, motor, social, behavioral, and emotional.

Visual-spatial deficits affect such things as visual-spatial organization, perception and imaging.
Cognitive processing deficits can create a difficulty in understanding connections between and among independent factors and relating these independent factors to the whole as well as difficulty in understanding the big picture.
Language deficits can cause a flat tone in the voice and difficulty in understanding things like humor, multiple meanings of words, and nuances of language.
Motor deficits affect motor coordination and small motor skills related to handwriting.
Social deficits are usually associated with deficits in social understanding.
Behavioral deficits can include rigid behavior and difficulty in transitions.
Emotional deficits make students with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at high risk for anxiety disorder, panic attack, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicide in some instances.

Many children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities may be mis-diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Emotional Disturbance.

Nonverbal Learning Disabilities are considered low-incidence and occur much less frequently than language-based learning disabilities. About 10% of the general population is estimated to have learning disabilities, but only about 1% - 10% of children with learning disabilities have nonverbal learning disability. Overall, it has a low rate of occurrence of approximately 1 in 1,000 people. Nonverbal learning disabilities affect males and females equality and are associated with a low-incidence of left-handedness.

Nonverbal learning disabilities are strictly neurological. Brain scans often confirm mild abnormalities of the right cerebral hemisphere in students with nonverbal learning disabilities. Many students with nonverbal learning disabilities have at some time during early development:

Sustained a moderate to severe head injury,
Received repeated radiation treatments on or near their heads over a prolonged period of time,
Congenital absences of the corpus callosum,
Been treated for hydrocephalus, or
Had brain tissue removed from their right hemisphere.

These neurological impacts involve significant destruction of the connections between white matter (long myelinated fibers) in the right hemisphere of the brain, which are important for intermodal integration. It is important to remember that nonverbal learning disabilities are strictly neurological and are not due to dysfunctional home lives.

Visual learning disabilities affect areas such as visual discrimination, visual figure-ground discrimination, visual sequencing, visual motor processing, visual memory, and visual closure.

Visual discrimination – affects the ability to use sight to notice and compare the features of different items and telling one from the other; difficulties arise when comparing two similar letters, shapes, or objects and in noticing the similarities and differences between certain colors, shapes and patterns.
Visual figure-ground discrimination – affects the ability to discriminate a shape or printed character from its background; difficulties include finding a specific bit of information on a printed page full of words and numbers and with seeing an image within a completed background.
Visual sequencing – affects the ability to see and distinguish the order of symbols, words or images; students can find difficulty when using a separate answer sheet, staying in the right place when reading a paragraph, reversing or misreading letters, numbers and words, and understanding math equations.
Visual motor processing – affects the ability to use feedback from the eyes to coordinate the movement of other parts of the body; difficulties occur when attempting to write within the lines or margins of paper, copying from a board or book, moving around without bumping into things, and participating in sports that require well-timed and precise movements in space.
Visual memory – affects the ability to use long-term visual memory to recall something seen long ago and short-term memory to remember something seen recently; difficulties include remembering the spelling of familiar words with irregular spelling, reading comprehension, using a calculator or keyboard with speed and accuracy, an remembering phone numbers.
Visual closure – affects the ability to know what an object is when only parts of it are visible; difficulties arise when trying to recognize a picture from a partial image, identifying a word with a missing letter, and recognizing a face when one feature is missing.
Spatial relationships – affects the ability to understand how objects are positioned in space in relation to oneself; difficulties can include getting from one place to another, spacing letters and words on paper, judging time, and reading maps.

The difficulties related to nonverbal learning disabilities occur not because of the eyes and how they see, but instead how the brain interprets or processes the visual input or information that is being perceived by the eyes. It too, is neurological and can, because of its symptoms be mis-diagnosed for other learning disabilities such as dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia or possibly as autism spectrum disorder depending on the severity of related deficits.

Written by Aimee

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