Ways for teachers (or anyone!) to support communication with NVLD students

Suppose you are  a teacher and you have a kid in your class who has nonverbal learning disability (NVLD). Like nearly all teachers, you want what is best for your students. You want to help. But sometimes communication with that NVLD kid just doesn’t seem to work. What might you try?

  1. Try writing. People with NLD have problems with many of the nonverbal aspects of communication. When you speak, you use these, often unconsciously. And you expect your listener to get the information, even if you don’t realize you expect it. That’s why many people prefer the phone to e-mail and in-person to either: They allow nonverbal communication. But your student may not be getting it. On the other hand, many NVLDers are very good at the strictly verbal parts of language.
  2. Be specific.  This is probably good advice when communicating with any student, but it’s especially so for NLD people. If your assignment is, say “write an essay” then you may expect the kids to realize what you want (based on grade level, amount of time, previous assignments and so on); many neurotypical kids will know. But many NVLD kids won’t. So, say how long it should be; say what they should (or shouldn’t) use for references; say whether they should use 1st person or 3rd; say whether it has to be strictly factual and so on. Say whatever it is that you want.
  3. Try communicating one-on-one. One area that many people with NLD have trouble with is communication in groups. If you are talking and some other kids are talking and another group of kids is doing something else…. Well, it’s easy for us to lose track. So, if you need to say something important to your NVLD student, try saying it when the two of you are separated from the group.
  4. Check the communication. It’s often easier to check whether you have successfully communicated right after you have communicated then to wait and see.
  5. Use e-mail. This is sort of an analog to number 1, but it can be particularly effective because, unlike writing on the blackboard, e-mail can be saved. It can be read at leisure and it can be read more than once. And you can point to it later.
  6. Encourage feedback. Almost no one wants to say “I don’t understand”. But you can make it a little easier for kids to say this by arranging ways for them to say it to you privately.
  7. Avoid words like “clearly”, “obviously” and so on. If what you are saying is clear to the student, then he or she knows it is clear. And if it is NOT clear, then you’ve just made the student feel stupid (and less likely to communicate).

Well, there are 7 tips. Let me know what you think! And if you have more tips, I’d be glad to read them.


  1. These are excellent tips, Peter. As the parent of an NVLD student, sometimes it’s hard to convey these ideas to other adults in a clean, succinct way. You’ve provided parents a quick, valuable resource to share with teachers. Thank you!

  2. Thanks Jessica! Feel free to share the link with anyone you think would like it or benefit from it.

  3. The only issue I have is with number 4. Personally, if a teacher or professor asked immediately after class if I understood everything I would say yes. I think this is because when things are explained to me verbally, they make perfect sense. It was after I got home or a few days later trying to complete work that I would have problems. It’s almost like it got lost somewhere and I wouldn’t even know how to ask for help because I wouldn’t know what I didn’t understand. If they explained it again or tried to go through it with me I would think “Well, how did I not get this? it makes perfect sense!” I love everything else about this

Speak Your Mind