Descriptive Profile of Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities

J. Palombo

From their article: "Working with Parents of Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities: A Conceptual and Intervention Model," Joseph Palombo and Anne Hatcher Berenberg state: "In previous papers we have detailed the profile of children with NLD (Palombo, 1995; Palombo & Berenberg, In Press). For readers who are unfamiliar with those papers, we summarize some of these children's features. However, we caution readers that these features represent neither a comprehensive picture of the syndrome nor are they meant to indicate that all children have every feature mentioned. Each child may be said to have his or her own topography of deficits and symptoms. There is a considerable range in types, combinations, and severity of deficits and symptoms. Just as some geographic regions may have an abundance of lakes and vegetation, while others may be dry and barren, so too with children with NLD, some may have severe deficits in some areas and be unimpaired in others. Each configuration of deficits will produce its own set of presenting problems."

October 21, 1994

The attached "Descriptive profile of children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities" provides a compilation of the characteristics of children thought to have this problem. It was culled from an extended review of the literature.

Because our knowledge about these children is incomplete , this Profile should be used with caution. Some children with some of the characteristic in the Profile may not suffer from Nonverbal Learning Disabilities. It is also possible that some children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities may not fit many of the characteristics described in the Profile.

I would welcome hearing from readers of this Profile, whether it be to have questions answered, or to provide input on any item(s) in the Profile. Please feel free to call the Center at (847) 933-9339. Leave a message stating that you are calling in connection with the Profile. One of the staff members will get in touch with you.

The development profile:

As infants:

As toddlers:

visual-spatial-motor problems emerge;

They are slow to learn limits and instructions from their caregivers,

By the age of three:

By the time they reach kindergarten or first grade other problems become evident:

By the age of seven or eight the full-fledged "syndrome" manifests itself. It is often at this point that children are referred for therapy.

The "clinical presentation" of the latency age child with NVLD

Children with NVLD are generally referred for a variety of problems:

Diagnostic interviews disclose social emotional distress.

Academic problems:

In the visual-spatial-motor area, areas of primary deficits are:

In the area of verbal language;

In the academic areas, they have:

In school they also have problems with:

The social-emotional profile.

In the expressive area:

In the processing area:

Their functioning in social situations is often problematic:

Psychiatric symptomatology:

At a young age, their frustration with confusing social situations often leads them to be emotionally overwhelmed and fragmented. This frustration lends itself, in younger children, to motor output such as hand flapping, jumping up and down excitedly, or extreme temper tantrums. They are then mistaken for children who suffer from Asperger’s syndrome or mild autism.

Joseph Palombo M.A. is a Clinical Social Worker, Research Coordinator, Founding Dean and Faculty Member, Institute for Clinical Social Work.   This paper was done in conjunction with Rush Neurobehavioral Center, 970 Knox Avenue, Skokie, IL 60076, Phone (847) 933-9339.  Mr. Palombo also has a private practice in Highland Park, IL.

May 30 1994


Updated Bibliography April 20, 1998

 Amini, F. Lewis, T., Lannon, R., Louie, al. (1996) Affect, attachment, memory:Contributions toward psychobiologic integration. Psychiatry, 59(3), 213-239.

Atwood, T. (1988). Asperger’s Syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. London: Jessica Kinsley Publishers.

Badian, N.A. (1986). Nonverbal Disorders of Learning: The Reverse of Dyslexia? Annals of Dyslexia, 36, 253-269.

Badian, N.A. (1992). Nonverbal Learning Disability School Behavior And Dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 42, 159-178.

Baron-Cohen, S. (1997). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge Mass. The MIT Press.

Benowitz, L. I., Moya, K. L., & Levine D. N. (1990). Impaired Verbal Reasoning and Constructional Aprazia in Subjects With Right Hemisphere Damage. Nueropsychologia, 38(3), 231-241.

Blakeslee, S. (1996). Researchers track down a gene that may govern spatial abilities.  NY Times (Tuesday, July 2,) B6.

Bonnet, K. A. (1996). Asperger Syndrome in neurologic perspective. Journal of Child Neurology, 11(6), 183-189.

Bretherton, I. Ridgeway D., Cassidy, J. (1990). Assessing internal working models of the Attachment relationship in D. S. M. T. Greenberg and E. M. Cummings (Ed.),

Attachment in the Preschool Years (pp. 273-308). Chicago. The University of Chicago Press.

Brumback, R. A., Harper, C. R., Weinberg, W. A. (1996). Nonverbal learning disabilities, Asperger’s syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Should we care? Child Neurology, 11(6), 427-429.

Casey, J. E., Rourke, B. P., & Picard, E. M  (1991). Syndrome of nonverbal learning Disabilities: Age difference in neuropsychological, academic, and socioemotional functioning. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 329-345.

Casey, J. E. S., J. D. (1994). The neuropsychology of nonverbal learning disabilities: A practical guide for the clinical praticioners. In L. F. K. C. E. Stout, (Ed.), The Neuropsychology of Mental Disorders: A practical Guide (pp. 187-201). Springfield: C.C Thomas.

Cohen, D. J., & Volkmar, F. R. (1996). Issues for Research. In F. R. Volkmar (Ed.), Psychoses and Pervasive Developmental Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence. (pp. 249-286). Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Press.

Davidson, R. J., (1994). Temperament, affective style, and frontal lobe asymmetry. In G. D. K. W. Fischer (Ed.), Human behavior and the developing brain (pp. 518-536). New York: The Guilford Press.

Denckla, M. B. (1983). The Neurospychology Of Social-Emotional Learning Disabilities. Arch Neurology, 40, 461-462.

Denckla, M. B., (1991). Academic and extracurricular aspects of nonverbal learning Disabilities. Psychiatric Annals, 21(12), 717-724.

DePaulo, B. M. (1991). Nonverbal behavior and self-representation: A developmental perspective. In R. S. R. Feldman, B. (Ed.), Fundamentals of nonverbal behavior. (pp. 351-397). Cambridge University Press.

Duke, M. P., Nowicki, S., and Martin, F. A. (1996). Teaching Your Child the Language Of Social Success. Atlanta: Peachtree.

This profile is an extract from a paper by J. Palombo titled: The Effects of Nonverbal Learning disabilities on Children’s Development: Theoretical and diagnostics considerations, which will appear as a chapter in a forthcoming book. B S. Mark & J. Incorvaia, The Handbook of Infant and Adolescent Psychotherapy: A guide to Diagnosis and Treatment. Jason Aronson Press. The concepts used in this profile are drawn from the literature in the attached bibliography.

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