5 mistakes people make when interacting with NLDers

When a person with nonverbal learning disabilities (NLD or NVLD) interacts with an NT (neurotypical person) things can go wrong. No list can prevent all the ways it can go wrong, but here are some mistakes NT people make when interacting with us:

  1. Assuming we’re stupid. Often a person with NLD won’t “get” something that the NT person is saying. It’s a sort of natural reaction on the NT person’s part to assume that the person who doesn’t “get” things is cognitively limited, or, in blunt terms, stupid. It’s true that stupid people often fail to get things; but there can be other reasons for a failure and one is that we NVLD folk don’t process information the same way most people do.
  2. Assuming we’re deaf. This seems a common mistake when dealing with anyone with a disability. Friends of mine who use wheelchairs say people yell at them all the time, as if the problems with their legs related to problems with their ears. Most people with NLD hear perfectly well.  Some of us, however, have trouble when there are multiple conversations going on at once (I know I do). We also tend to miss the nonverbal aspects of language – body language, facial expression, tone of voice and so on.
  3. Assuming we’re not listening.  Since NLD people have trouble processing nonverbal information, we may look away from you more than most people will. Sometimes this is because the information we get can overwhelm us, sometimes it’s because that nonverbal information just isn’t that important. I listen better when I am not paying attention to a person’s face.
  4. Assuming we’re not interested in you. OK, sometimes we really aren’t interested in you! Just like sometimes other NT people aren’t interested in you. But NT people use small talk and social chitchat to judge interest and many NVLD people just don’t get it. We are often much better when the conversation moves to more substantive topics.
  5. Assuming we’re like other “spectrum” people you  know. There’s a lot of talk about an “autism spectrum”, and some people think we’re on it. Whether we are or not, we’re each individuals – when you’ve seen one person with NLD, you’ve seen one person with NLD


  1. Can we use a summary or excerpt from this article for the Learning Disabilities of NJ Newsletter, the JerseyLine. Of course, full credit to the author will be given.
    Thank you.
    Fern Goldstein

  2. nvldishautist says

    Most NVLDers are in the autistic spectrum (“ballpark”). Those who have social problems from early childhood for me surely have ASD/PDD (it sounds scary, but NVLD-caused PDDs are mild to moderate, not severe or profound like traditional autism). NVLD is not Social small disorder even without social, emotional, behavioral nad sensoric issues. Earlier in the history most people har not ability to write and read, but they have own families, social abilities… NVLD is more harmful. It affects visual and motoric skills. Those without Kanner’s autism traits but with social nad emotional problem from early childhood have to be named as having pervasive developmental disorder and belonging to autistic ballpark. Learning problems are only one of the consequences of their non-neurotypicallity. Pure NVLD is probably quite rare.

  3. Peter, this is a great list!

    The ones I’ve gotten the most are:
    1) “You’re not paying attention.” People who think I’m smart and see that I don’t understand something that seems obvious assume I must not be paying attention, even when my body language indicates otherwise.

    2) “You must have meant something different than what you actually said.” I’ve asked questions about how the parts of household appliances or other devices worked that seem so basic that the other person could not believe I actually asked that. So, they interpreted me as asking a different, higher-level question that I wasn’t asking, and gave an unhelpful answer. That just leads to frustration for everyone involved. I find people will still do this no matter how clearly I phrase my question.

    Incidentally, these sorts of misunderstandings and communication problems have made me socially unsuccessful sometimes, even though, as far as I know, I’ve never met qualifications for ASD under any DSM. I think there’s a difference between direct social disability (some sort of difficulty reading or producing facial expressions, gestures, or nonliteral language) and non-social disabilities that can make someone less socially successful (like impulsivity in ADHD, which I also have). NVLDishautist, are you saying people with NVLD have social disability but it’s less severe than autism, or are you saying that people with NVLD don’t necessarily have social disability but still have social problems?

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