Nonverbal Learning Disorder or Aspergers

View the Asperger Syndrome Checklist.

Is your child's problem with nonverbal instruction a symptom of nonverbal learning disorder or Aspergers? Differentiating between nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) and Asperger's syndrome (AS) is sometimes difficult during diagnosis. In fact, some experts believe that the two separate conditions are linked. Learning more about NLD and AS can help you seek a proper diagnosis for your child. Find out more about the two neurological conditions, their common traits and differences as well as why diagnosis is challenging.

About Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Nonverbal Learning Disorder aka Nonverbal Learning Disability is a neurological condition that involves impairments in the right hemisphere of the brain which result in problems understanding nonverbal instructions and difficulties with social and motor skills.

A child with NLD generally has strong verbal speech, language and rote memory skills but has problems with visual-spatial abilities, evaluative and organizational thinking.

Asperger's Syndrome Details

Asperger's syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) that involves impairments with social and communication skills. AS is one of five PDDs along with autism, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.

A child with Aspergers typically has a large vocabulary and speaks well but has a problem with conversation, problem solving and motor skills.

Nonverbal Learning Disorder or Aspergers

NLD and AS share many symptoms that can make diagnosis difficult. Yet, there are some key differences between the two conditions.

Common Traits Between NLD and Aspergers

NLD and Aspergers share the following traits:

  • Difficulty understanding nonverbal communication
  • Large vocabulary
  • Strong verbal skills
  • Problems with social interaction
  • Interested in making friends but is socially awkward
  • May miss social cues and gestures
  • Impairments in fine and gross motor skills and have difficulties learning sports or with handwriting
  • Prefers a routine and does not like change

Both conditions may be missed in some children and diagnosed in later childhood or adulthood.

Key Differences Between NLD and Aspergers

NLD has the following characteristics that are not shared by AS:

  • Requires verbal instructions and cannot understand nonverbal communication
  • Problems with reading and retaining information
  • Has a wide range of interests

The following AS traits are not shared by NLD:

  • Problems with nonverbal communication but can learn with other forms of communication
  • No pretend play in early childhood
  • Narrow range of interests
  • Repetitive and obsessive behaviors such as handflapping, rocking or spinning objects
  • Fixates on object or single subject for hours
  • Reads and retains information well
  • Mindblindness or problems understanding another person's emotions
  • Inappropriate responses to social situations
  • Difficulties with two-way conversation and may talk at people
  • May have sensory processing issues and have an unusual response to certain sounds, sights or tastes

The key differences between NLD and AS are mainly in the areas of the repetitive and obsessive behaviors in AS, range of interests and the ability to understand other forms of communication.

Diagnosis of Both NLD and AS

Some experts believe that NLD and AS are linked because of the similar symptoms and the fact that a person can have both AS and NLD. Among those who find the similarities between the two conditions remarkable is Dr. David Dinklage from the Asperger's Association of New England.

It is common for a person with a PDD such as Aspergers to have other medical or neurological conditions. A diagnosis of both NLD and AS might be considered if a person has NLD symptoms and AS traits such as repetitive behavior and sensory processing issues.

Seeking a Diagnosis

If you suspect your child may have nonverbal learning disorder or Aspergers, seek a diagnosis as soon as possible. Talk to your child's pediatrician about your concerns and request NLD and autism screening. There are a number of screening tests, such as the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), used for diagnosis.

Get a second opinion if you are not satisfied with the diagnosis. Learn as much as possible about both conditions. It can sometimes take some time and persistence to find the right doctors and get an appropriate diagnosis. Early intervention helps children with NLD and AS have the best prognosis for the future.

For more information on NLD, visit the Nonverbal Learning Disorders Association site. The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support site is a good resource for details on Aspergers.


If your child is diagnosed with NLD or AS, there are effective treatment options for both conditions. Your child can expect to live a healthy and fulfilling life with the right treatment plan.

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