"Learning disabilities" is an umbrella term, used to describe an array of specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or auditory processing disorder. These disabilities cause neurologically-based processing issues that interfere with an individual's ability to develop higher-level skills.
Generally speaking, individuals who showcase learning disabilities are of average or even above average intelligence. That is why it's critical as a parent to help your child bridge the gap between their true potential and actual level of achievement.
Learning disabilities are typically associated with verbal skills, such as reading and writing. However, if your child has strong verbal skills, yet appears to struggle in other key areas, particularly those involving comprehension and social cues, their challenges may be related to a non-verbal learning disability.
Understanding the differences between these two learning disabilities can help you ensure that your child's unique needs are met, so that they can exercise their strengths and in turn, excel.
Verbal vs Non-verbal Learning Disabilities
Issues with reading and writing are typically recognized and identified when a child goes to school, as the symptoms of verbal learning disabilities are more apparent.
However, non-verbal learning disabilities are often under- or misdiagnosed. This is because in a child's early years, reading ability tends to be the main indicator of academic success and progress — and in some cases, children with a non-verbal learning disability display superior verbal abilities.
Non-verbal learning disabilities are often those that describe a cluster of challenges and deficits, most often associated with non-language areas. In this case, issues with mathematics may appear early on. Issues regarding non-linguistic aspects of communication, including facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are also often demonstrated.
Identifying Verbal and Non-verbal Learning Disabilities
Below are some ways to identify whether your child has verbal or non-verbal learning disabilities.
Signs and Symptoms of a Verbal Learning Disability
Verbal learning disabilities are often recognized when a child begins school, as they often struggle to read out loud, write, speak, and listen.
While verbal learning disabilities often appear differently from one child to the next, the following red flags may be signs of a verbal learning disability:
- Issues with reading and writing — especially in regards to word recognition, reading fluency, word comprehension, and overall vocabulary skills. In this case, your child may be dyslexic.
- Struggles with math, particularly in relation to organization and the memorization of numbers, as well as counting. This is what's known as dyscalculia, and may also be apparent among those with a non-verbal learning disability.
- Problems writing, especially when aiming to form letters and words. Spelling is often a challenge, as well as writing coherence, and writing consistency. This is what's known as dysgraphia.
Signs and Symptoms of a Non-verbal Learning Disability
LD Online estimates that more than 65 percent of communication is actually non-verbal, which is why this disability is often overlooked.
Possible deficits to be aware of include:
- Comprehension of social and emotional cues, as well as information that is not clear in words, such as sarcasm, humor, metaphors, etc.
- The pragmatics of language, such as knowing how to initiate a conversation or maintain one, as well as understanding what to say and when.
- Organizational skills, especially in regards to complex tasks that require multiple steps.
- Aspects of various mathematical concepts, including the mastery of space, time, quantity, etc.
It is also important to note that there is a strong overlap between non-verbal learning disabilities and Asperger's Syndrome. Studies indicate that the majority of children with Asperger's meet the criteria for non-verbal learning disabilities — yet the opposite doesn't hold true.
What You Can Do
With the right support, your child can achieve great success in all aspects of their life. The most important step is to seek a diagnosis from a specialist or professional who has experience in working with students with learning differences.
Educate yourself as much as possible and most importantly, nurture your child's strengths. Pay special attention to their passions, skills, and interests, while actively pursuing treatments and services for areas of difficulty.
If your child needs more support to succeed in an academic setting, consider reaching out to Brain Balance Centers. For over a decade, we’ve helped over 30,000 children improve the critical skills needed to create a brighter path for their future. Contact us online or call 800-877-5500 to learn more about how the Brain Balance Program can help. You can also view the research and results of the program on the website.