What a Nonverbal Learning Disorder is and Why it Shouldn’t be Ignored | Rice Psychology
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What a Nonverbal Learning Disorder is and Why it Shouldn’t be Ignored

Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.

While I enjoy speaking to others in social settings, understanding what they’re saying is sometimes difficult. I tend to overanalyze every little thing someone says to me and sometimes take things way too literally. It’s become overwhelming as I’ve gotten older. I’ll soon be undergoing some cognitive testing, but I’m incredibly nervous. My family and therapist are extremely supportive and are guiding me through this whole thing. My mind is racing about what the diagnosis will be.

It’s becoming mainstream to hear celebrities opening up about their mental health struggles. Comedian and actor Chris Rock is the latest to open up about his own. In a Hollywood Reporter article, Rock discussed undergoing nine hours of cognitive testing (like we do here at RPG) that revealed his having nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD).

For years, he had a tendency to interpret things very literally until a friend suggested that he might have a form of autism (Asperger’s) and should consider being evaluated. NVLD is distinct from autism spectrum disorder. As a result of his new diagnosis, Rock currently spends seven hours a week in therapy with two different therapists trying to process the impact of his difficult childhood, how best to deal with his new learning disability diagnosis, and exploring the challenges on his life and livelihood.

“I thought I was actually dealing with it, and the reality is I never dealt with it,” said Rock. “The reality was the pain and the fear that that brought me, I was experiencing it every day.” Any mental health-related issue that holds you back from living a normal life can be terrifying. Rice Psychology Group understands these struggles and we want to continue the dialogue Rock has started by going more in-depth about this disorder and what it means.

What is Nonverbal Learning Disorder?

According to the NVLD Project, NVLD is “defined as a set of strengths in verbal memory and vocabulary, accompanied by visual-spatial, fine motor, and social difficulties that include decoding body language and understanding inference and humor. Many with NVLD also face challenges adapting to frequent changes and novel situations and struggle to see the big picture, focusing on the details of a story or essay instead of the main theme.” According to a recent study from Columbia University, as many as 1 in 25, or about 3% to 4%, of children may have NVLD.

What does this mean?

In layman’s terms, someone with NVLD typically has strong verbal abilities but has trouble with navigating friendships and reading social cues, understanding and knowing how to deal with unfamiliar types of situations, coordination and fine and gross motor skills, handwriting, organization, and multitasking. This is not an exhaustive list. They may understand the words people use when they talk but miss the real meaning because so much of communication is nonverbal. They are auditory learners who compensate with excellent memories and advanced language skills. NVLD is believed to be caused by a deficit in the right cerebral hemisphere of the brain where nonverbal processing occurs.

It’s important for the reader to note that NVLD is not included as a formal diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which is heavily relied on for diagnosis of mental health disorders, seemingly because of difficulty arriving at a consensus about the definition, clearly defined symptoms, and even whether it should be considered a neurodevelopmental or intellectual problem prior to the conclusion of the latest edition of the DSM. Despite its exclusion from the DSM-5, it is very much a valid and well-researched brain-based condition that warrants consideration and treatment.

What Should You Do?

If you’ve gone your entire life feeling as if something is different or off, it may be time for you to consider an evaluation to determine if you have NVLD or a related problem. If you were recently diagnosed, then you might be wondering what happens next. An NVLD diagnosis can feel like a relief since you’ll finally know the issue behind the problem.

As one of my professional heroes, Dr. Harold Koplewicz from The Child Mind Center, in NYC taught me, “diagnosis guides treatment.” You may now be ready to meet with an understanding, well-informed professional to help you learn about and cope with NVLD. At Rice Psychology Group in Tampa, we have knowledgeable psychologists who can help you grasp the full scope of your issue and work with you to create a plan for living with it and thrive.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Try putting yourself in a positive mindset. Don’t use your new diagnosis as an excuse. Instead, see it as a character-building opportunity to better yourself.
  • Focus on what you’re good at and work on the rest. Don’t let what you haven’t been able to overcome get you down.
  • Don’t let others, who may not understand your struggle or what you’re dealing with, limit your value of yourself.
  • Stop thinking you’re “stupid.” This is simply a setback that can take time to get used to. Everybody has setbacks, yours is just different.
  • Take your diagnosis seriously. Just because NVLD isn’t a physical or visible condition doesn’t mean you should brush it under the rug. Understand what you’re dealing with, but also know that you have many on your side, like Rice Psychology Group, that will help you.

Some great places to learn more include:

You Are Our Top Priority

At Rice Psychology Group, we aim to help through skilled inquiry and by listening, informal and formal assessments, a thorough understanding of both strengths and areas of difficulty, and collaboratively putting a plan into place for our child and adult clients to get on with the business of living their lives to the fullest. Reach out to us today to schedule your free, 10-minute consultation.

About Rice Psychology

Rice Psychology Group is home to a team of psychologists who work tirelessly to help adults, adolescents and children deal with their issues. Whether you’re currently dealing with depression, going through a divorce or fighting an issue you just can’t understand, know that our Tampa psychologists are here to help.

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