What is nonverbal learning disability?

So, what is NLD?

How can a person be learning disabled (LD) and yet be good at reading and at math?

Are labels like NLD useful, harmful, or both?

What’s it like being weird?

What is NLD?

NLD is a neurological impairment that affects people’s abilities with many areas, typically ones that are not related to speech. Common areas of difficulty are reading body language, spatial perception, visual skills, physical coordination, trouble with math and so on.  Here is one  good website.

How can a person be learning disabled (LD) and yet be good at reading and at math?

Anything an adult knows that an infant doesn’t know has to be learned; babies are born with very few skills: They know how to suck, they know how to pee, they know how to cry. A few other things. Everything else is learned. These skills tend to go together in various ways. If you are much worse at one set of these skills than at most others, that’s LD. Most people think an LD has to be about something you learn in school – and it certainly can be about these types of skills, particularly reading (dyslexia) and math (dyscalculia). But it can also relate to other things (NLD, Asperger’s etc). Expert social security disability attorneys says that you can be LD and gifted. Why not? You can be tall and fat, can’t you?

Are labels like NLD useful, harmful, or both?

I’m going with “both”. If you are weird in some way, you are going to get labeled. You can choose the label, or have it chosen for you. If you (or you, for your child) insists on not having a label like “NLD” then you will get a label like “lazy”, “crazy”: or “stupid”.

But labels can be more useful than that. They can help find services, they can reduce isolation, they can even help with solutions to the problems you face. The problem comes when we let the label dictate to us, instead of the other way round – because a label can be a box, and people don’t fit in boxes.

What’s it like being weird?

Well, being weird generally sucks.

By the time I was 4, it was clear I was, in my father’s words “Screwed up somehow, but not stupid”. There were no schools for such children back then (40 years ago), so my mom started one: The Gateway Schoo of New York. She handled everything that wasn’t education, and Elizabeth Freidus (pronounced ‘freed us’ – amazingly apropos) handled education. That school helped me a lot. Now, I am on the board.

After that, I went to mainstream schools and was miserable. Really miserable. Suicidal for much of adolescence. Absolutely no friends (I mean NONE). I had one date (disastrous) before college, and only a couple in college.

Things got better. College was MUCH better than HS. And post-college was even better. I’m married. I have 2 great kids. I have 2 MAs and a PhD, and a job (as a statistician).


  1. HI – Thanks for this site. My son David has all sorts of disabilities, smart but trouble learning. He also was by age 4 very identifiably different. He has made great progess with direct instruction from his tutor (who trained at Morningside Academy in Seattle) and at school (SRA program from McGraw Hill.) David sort of “owns” his ‘different’ label. He knows he’s different and is OK with it. Very lucky kid.
    Anyway this is a great resource, so well written. I appreciate your honesty.

  2. Susan L. Blumberg says

    Peter, I love your writing style and you already know I agree with most everything you say! I didn’t knew about your mom and The Gateway School – how courageous of her!
    take care, Susan

  3. Veronique Buenos says

    Great piece. Do I have you permission to share on FB (btw if you want to join ither the NLD or the Parents of NLD Children groups on FB let me know).
    Also loved your piece on processing speed btw.
    Take care,

  4. Sure.

    Are the groups good? I hardly use Facebook at all.

  5. Hi Peter, what do you know about the nvld and gifted diagnoses. It seems to me that the LD gets in the way of the gifted part of my child.

  6. You can certainly have both NLD and giftedness and they can certainly mask each other.

  7. nvldishautist says

    I am “irritating” ahen NVLD is used to describe people with weird socio-emotional-behavioral symptoms. I have AS diagnosis, but I think that in Northern America I would be diagnosed with NLD. My verbal skills are better than nonverbal. I was also good in Maths and reading. I had very poor eye contact as a child, have atypical, “obsessive” interests and dysexecutiveness (somewhat looking as a combination of ADD, NLD and SCT, but I am rather not impulsive like people with ADHD). The name NLD misleads greatly. I have idiosyncratic mentality. Bizarre thinking, emotional reations, social needs. “NLD” is too weak name. I have talent to school learning. My mentality has traits of many conditions.

  8. Names get stuck on things. “NLD” has been used for quite a while. It’s not great but there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about the name.

  9. nvldishautist says

    I definately would not be named as someone who has just a learning disorder. I think that I am intellectually bright, but also autistic, schizotypal and dysexecutive. Not learning disabled (at least to larger degree). These names sound seriously and are not “palatable”. They inform that I have SERIOUS problem and SERIOUS weirdness. I do not want be offensive for people with NLD, but I think that most (or at least many) of them have a sort of pervasive developmental disability, not just learning disorder. PDD symptoms are in social, emotional and behavioral area and are marked in childhood. Poor eye contact is a PDD traits, idiosyncratic, “obsessive” interests also are PDD traits. People with PDDs can also achieve success in life.


  1. […] But I had already been “labeled” all through school as “weird,” and my struggles with driving made me feel like a “freak,” so “NVLD” was far better.  As a matter of fact, NVLD meant I could pinpoint where my problems lay and possible ways of dealing with them.  As Peter Flom puts it here: […]

Speak Your Mind