Home > Educational Neuroscience > Students With Nonverbal Learning Disability

Students With Nonverbal Learning Disability

Students with nonverbal learning disability (NLD) have good verbal processing skills but will have problems comprehending the visual and spatial components of mathematics skills and concepts,especially when dealing with geometric shapes and designs. Although it may be difficult for students with NLD to understand mathematics concepts and solve problems, they may have no trouble applying a mathematical formula that has been explicitly taught. They generally learn verbal information quickly. But when they look at a diagram for the first time, they look at a detailed piece. When they look a second time they see a different piece and then another piece when they look for the third time. Because there is no visual overview, the diagram may not make sense. Additionally, due to their poor spatial organization ability, they may have difficulty aligning problems on a page to solve them correctly.

Teachers of arithmetic and mathematics who work with students with NLD should consider the following strategies (Foss, 2001; Serlier-van den Bergh, 2006):

  • Rely heavily on the student’s verbal and analytic strengths. These students begin to work when speech is used, so use speech as the starting point. For example, have students read the mathematics problem aloud before attempting to solve it.
  •  Gain a commitment from the student to collaborate to improve visual and spatial weaknesses. Drawing diagrams and graphic organizers that are related to mathematics concepts and problems may help considerably.
  • Use words to describe visual and spatial information. Ask the student to do the same while pointing to the corresponding places on the diagram or concrete model.
  • Provide sequential verbal instructions for nonverbal tasks.
  • Young students with NLD may feel awkward handling manipulatives because their tactile sense is not developed. However, manipulatives can help students develop mental images of geometric shapes and visualize spatial relationships as well as improve their visual memory skills. Ask them to touch objects first with their dominant hand, then with the non-dominant hand, and finally with both hands at once.
  • Encourage the student to slowly integrate sensory information: Read it, say it, hear it, see it, write it, do it.


Foss, J. M. (2001). Nonverbal learning disability: How to recognize it and minimize its effects. (ERIC Digest E-619). Arlington, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.

Serlier-van den Bergh, A. (2006). NLD primary materials: Basic theory, approach, and hands-on strategies. Paper presented at the Symposium of the Nonverbal Learning Disorders Association, March 10–11, 2006, San Francisco, CA.

  1. Susan Rieck
    November 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Sousa, for taking the time to help us understand these important concepts. Please keep the information coming; you are changing the “brain changers” and we appreciate it!

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