Solving the puzzle of Non-Verbal Language Disorder

Eve came to us at the recommendation of a psychologist who diagnosed her with Non-Verbal Language Disorder NVLD.  (See blog dated January 25th)  The diagnosis was given following a horrendous school year.  Eve is in advanced and honor classes.  She is academically bright yet struggles.  Her challenges include slow processing speed, decreased working memory and problems with visual-spatial skills.

 We decided to work toward change by targeting her ability to pay attention, logic and reasoning, visual processing and processing speed.  Eve participated in 36 hours of brain training at The Brain Trainer along with weekly home assignments. 

 To build her attention, we began with simple repetitive tasks and “cancellation” tasks (crossing out a targeted picture, letter, or number when a lot of stimuli is presented).  We purposely added more and more distractions to have Eve learn to work though distractions.  We also defined two tasks and had her practice shifting between these two tasks with different stimuli, such as a naming task and a copying task.

 We attacked working memory by solving calculations mentally and pushing speed in this area as well.  For logic and reasoning we had Eve practice many higher-level grouping and categorization tasks, especially looking for patterns.  We also targeted her ability to make inferences.  To improve speed, much of her work was done with an ever-increasing metronome speed and many timed tasks. 

 Six weeks into the new school year Eve has less test anxiety; her homework is taking less time and her grades are up.  She is more confident and more willing to try new things.  She reports better control of her thoughts and feeling less “scatterbrained.”  We congratulate Eve on her success so far and we’re proud to be part of it!  We’re confident that the 2010 - 2011 school year will be a turnaround year for Eve.

The puzzler diagnosis…Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)

You’re a teacher. A girl in your class stands too close when she talks to classmates and speaks too loudly. She doesn’t understand anyone’s jokes.  She is forever getting lost finding her classrooms even though she has been in this school for more than three months. She's reluctant to try to learn anything new.  She remembers lots of things but seems disorganized and scattered.  You are wondering if she may have Asperger’s syndrome.   

Her actual diagnosis?  Non-verbal learning disorder.

Non-verbal communication, including social distance, facial expression, body posture, gestures, speaking tone, and interaction rate, makes up about 65% of our communication.  That’s the largest part of our communications!  It may be hard to describe exactly what is not quite right with someone with NVLD.  But not being able to read others’ non-verbal cues and little awareness of their own non-verbal presence can lead to significant communication problems and isolation. 

NVLD is most typically diagnosed late in the elementary years or the pre-teen years during middle school.  These students are often are challenged by academic assignments, in spite of their skill with language, and they have few positive relationships.  Depression is one of the triggers that often will move these children toward a full evaluation.  The reason for the late diagnosis is that there are so many areas these individuals excel in.  Their reading, spelling and verbal skills are very strong. 

Common characteristics are:

  • Poor writing skills.
  • When tested, their verbal skills are strong but their visual skills, such as doing puzzles and visual matching, are weaker
  • Difficulty with transitions and trying new things
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Anxiety
  • Non-stop or frequent talking/questioning
  • Organizational difficulties
  • Visual spatial difficulties – poor sense of direction
  • Very literal and have difficulty with metaphors, humor, idioms and other figurative language concepts.

This surely is a puzzler condition.  It can take a long time to diagnosis and can be even more challenging to treat.  The Brain Trainer recently provided cognitive training to someone with this diagnosis and I am really excited about her end result.  More on that next Tuesday, in our next blog.