Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities And Their Effect On Social Skills

Many people have heard of Asperger's Syndrome / High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder as a developmental difference that can lead to difficulties with social skills. A somewhat more-obscure variation in brain wiring is the Non-Verbal Learning Disability or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder. People with it have similar social struggles as those with Asperger's Syndrome.

Learning Disabilities

Learning Disability is used differently depending on what country you're in. This article uses the North American meaning. In the UK the term refers to what in North America would be called an intellectual Disability (or mental retardation to use an outdated label).

For someone to be diagnosed with a learning disability they have to have at least average intelligence, but show a particular weakness in one or more aspects of their ability to learn. Some examples:

Learning disabilities mainly lead to academic problems. However, the underlying brain difference that causes, say, trouble with doing math, can create other issues, such as difficulty recognizing social cues. Professionals who work with children with learning disabilities note that they often have trouble in social situations and are less accepted by their peers on average. Their learning disabilities can also cause them social problems in a more indirect way, by leading to them be picked on for being "stupid" or in a Special Ed class or whatnot.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

People with a non-verbal learning disability may have even more problems with socializing. Many learning disabilities affect skills in the verbal domain; reading, writing, speaking, articulating your thoughts, vocabulary, etc. Most school work draws on these abilities. People with a non-verbal learning disability often have welll-developed verbal skills. They can come across as very articulate and intelligent.

Their weakness is in the non-verbal area. They have a hard time grasping math or spatial awareness-related tasks like reading a map or graph, judging how far away something is, or navigating their way through a city. They're often physically uncoordinated. Most importantly, they have trouble with social situations, particularly with reading and using non-verbal communication. They're great talkers, and tend to over-rely on that. They can chat someone's ear off, but struggle with other facets of communication.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities and Asperger's Syndrome

People with these conditions present very similarly to each other. Some researchers debate whether there's even a real difference between the two. Maybe they're both describing the same underlying condition, but using two different frameworks to do it. Personally I've seen Venn diagrams that showed that while Asperger's Syndrome and non-verbal learning disabilities overlap in most of their symptoms, there are some differences between the two. The funny thing is I've seen various sources claim different traits are the unique aspects of each condition.

Helping people with Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities learn social skills

Non-verbal learning disabilities are mainly diagnosed in children. Like kids with 'regular' learning disabilities who are struggling socially, they may be given remedial social skills training. This is often done in a group setting, but may be done one-on-one with a counselor, or in pairs with another client.

This article on approaches that can work for adults with Asperger's Syndrome may be relevant to you:

Ways People With Asperger Syndrome Can Improve Their Social Success