Nonverbal Learning Disorders
Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NLD) (described by Rourke, 1988) are characterized primarily by deficient performances in visual-spatial-organizational abilities, complex psychomotor and tactile-perceptual skills, and problem solving abilities. Further deficits include attentional deficits for visual or tactile information, poor exploratory behaviour, and poor memory for tactile, visual, complex, and novel material. Academically there is an outstanding relative deficiency in arithmetic compared to reading and spelling. There are problems in social competence, adapting to novel situations, and emotional disturbances may arise. Neuropsychological assets include simple motor skills, auditory perception, learning of rote material, attention for simple verbal material, and good rote memory for verbal material.
Rourke suggests that NLD emerges in children who suffer from disordered functioning of systems within the right hemisphere (from deterioration or destruction of white matter), or from lack of access to such system (eg., callosal agenesis).
The natural history of the NLD child involves moving from apparent hyperactivity through normoactive behaviour and then onto a hypoactive response style. The infant generally does not explore the world through vision or locomotion but relies upon language. The eventual social outcome for the NLD person may be withdrawal, isolation, and loneliness (Rourke, 1988). There is a widening gap between deficits and assets as the child grows.
Assessment & treatment
At the Sydney Cognitive Development Centre our specialised neuropsychological assessment involves the testing of all the deficits and assets previously mentioned. We focus on strengths such as verbal skills when designing an educational or management program. Recommendations include the assessment and management of academic and adaptive deficits, as these contribute greatly to poor quality of life. A highly structured environment with one-to-one teaching is recommended when possible. Children with NLD may have difficulties generalizing information to different situations and this is addressed in all forms of remedial training.