Mentoring Students With a Nonverbal Learning Disability
by Kaye L. Seymour, Academic Mentor, Beacon College
A nonverbal learning disability (NLD) can be described as a
right-hemisphere information-processing malfunction. The learning and
behavioral difficulties are closely related to a lack of mental
coordination. Students with a NLD experience neuropsychological
deficits that affect their tactile and visual perception and
attention, psychomotor coordination, and spatial orientation.
Cognitively, they are unable to apply prior learned knowledge,
exhibit impaired mental flexibility, have difficulty perceiving the
pragmatics of language, and performing executive functions is
arduous. They seem to have great difficulty with “multi-tasking.”
People with NLD can be affected to varying degrees of severity.
In order for the student with a NLD to receive maximum benefits from
academic mentoring, the environment should be free of all
distractions. Students with NLD perform best if a routine is
established that is predictable and highly structured. They need
assistance organizing assignments, materials, and information to be
written. Since students with a NLD are strong auditory learners, all
visual information should be accompanied by oral explanations.
Reviewing material aloud, or having the student re-teach the material
to you allows them to utilize their strengths in a constructive
manner. Information should be concrete and relevant, and assignments
need to be broken down into smaller steps. All visual material should
be simplified and uncluttered.
Capitalizing on their strong vocabulary and spelling abilities
facilitate writing assignments that need to be prompted and organized
in advance with verbal brainstorming followed by use of a graphic
organizer. Models of expected outcomes should be utilized. Although
students with NLD are auditory learners, they cannot listen and take
notes at the same time. Supplied copies of class lecture notes can be
highlighted or annotated based on their need. Class lectures can be
recorded so they can listen to them later as they read their notes.
Handwriting is laborious for students with NLD; word processors
should be used as much as possible for written tasks.
Deficits in the areas of concept formation, nonverbal problem solving
and visual-spatial organization require an approach for assistance
with math assignments that is directed at helping the student
calculate. Charts, tables and graphs can add to their confusion.
Instead, using aids such as a computer or calculator along with steps
or procedures that have been verbally rehearsed support their efforts
to compute answers. Graphing paper that has been enlarged, or
notebook paper turned horizontally helps them align numbers when
writing them down.
Students with NLD rely on their auditory memory, so comprehension of
material they have read is enhanced if a discussion follows each
section or chapter that is read. A guided reading approach or
supplying a study guide or list of key information prior to reading
is beneficial. Listening to taped books or an adult reader as they
visually read material also improves understanding. Visual tracking
can be improved by using a ruler, index card, or folded sheet of
paper under the line of text.
Students with a nonverbal learning disability face many challenges.
When they receive academic support in a nurturing environment that
cultivates their strengths and untapped potential, they can navigate
successfully through their coursework. Academic mentors can provide
effective instruction in compensation strategies so that they can
become independent and thriving students. Their educational goals can
be achieved, and they can have a rewarding collegiate experience.
Kaye Seymour holds a M.Ed. from the University of Central Florida in
Exceptional Education. She has nineteen years of experience as a
teacher of students with learning disabilities and three years as a
Placement Specialist in the public school setting. She has been an
academic mentor at Beacon College for five years.
Molenaar-Klumper, M. (2002). Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities.
London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Nonverbal Learning Disabilities Association.
Nonverbal Learning Disabilities On-line.
Stewart, K. (2002). Helping a Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder
or Asperger’s Syndrome. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Tanguay, P.B. (2002). Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School:
Educating Students With NLD, Asperger Syndrome and Related
Conditions. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.