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Non-Verbal Learning disability, sometimes referred to as NVLD, is a neurological condition that often goes unnoticed, especially in adults. Unlike other learning disabilities that affect language skills, a Non-Verbal Learning disability primarily impacts social skills and spatial reasoning.

While learning disabilities such as Non-Verbal Learning are traditionally believed to be “lifelong”, here at Arrowsmith we understand that identifying Non-Verbal Learning disabilities can help adults not only manage, but also overcome, the challenges associated with it when a well-researched cognitive enhancement program is put into place. 

That’s why, in this blog, we explore what a Non-Verbal Learning disability is, the key signs that could point to an adult having this challenge, and - most importantly - how this learning difficulty can be addressed through the power of neuroplasticity and targeted cognitive exercises.

What is a Non-Verbal Learning Disability?

A Non-Verbal Learning disability is characterized by difficulties in processing non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and understanding spatial relationships.

Adults with Non-Verbal Learning disabilities may excel in verbal skills but struggle significantly with tasks that require visual-spatial understanding and social interactions. This discrepancy can create unique challenges in both an individual’s personal and professional settings, leading to a significant decline in their confidence and overall well-being.

What Causes a Non-Verbal Learning Disability?

Our brain operates through various cognitive functions, which determine our ability to perform everyday tasks, both academically and professionally, as well as socially.

Each of these cognitive functions operates across a continuum of capacity, from a superior level of functioning to a severe level of challenge - or anywhere in between.

This unique combination of cognitive strengths and weaknesses make up our unique cognitive profile. It is this cognitive profile that shapes our experiences in school, the workplace, and daily life, and helps us to understand the why behind what we do and how we do things.

The stronger our cognitive functioning, the better our brain performs - leaving us more equipped to deal with life’s challenges.

You can learn more about cognitive functions and the critical role they play in everything we - as individuals - do, in our Beginners Guide to Understanding Cognitive Functions. Or to find out your unique cognitive profile of strengths and weaknesses, you can take the Arrowsmith Cognitive Questionnaire.


When it comes specifically to a Non-Verbal Learning disability, an individual’s difficulties are typically due to weaknesses in these specific cognitive functions:

  • Non-Verbal Thinking: Difficulty in perceiving and interpreting non-verbal cues and understanding context beyond spoken words.

  • Object Recognition: Challenges in identifying and remembering objects, faces, and places.

  • Kinesthetic Perception: Struggles with coordination and understanding the body's position in space.

  • Spatial Reasoning: Difficulty in visualizing and manipulating objects in space, affecting navigation and organization.

  • Mechanical Reasoning: Trouble understanding how things work and predicting the outcomes of physical interactions.

  • Abstract Reasoning: Challenges in understanding complex concepts that are not directly observable or tangible.

8 Signs of a Non-Verbal Learning Disability in Adults

Recognizing Non-Verbal Learning disabilities in adults can be challenging, as the symptoms are often subtle and mistaken for other challenges.

We've listed some common signs to look out for below, although it’s important to remember that just because you or someone you know may be experiencing one or a number of these challenges, doesn’t mean you - or they - necessarily have a Non-Verbal Learning disability:

1. Poor Coordination

Adults with Non-Verbal Learning disabilities may be seen as “clumsy” or always “getting in the way.” They often struggle with motor skills and tasks requiring physical coordination.

2. Always Asking Questions

They may ask repetitive questions or interrupt the regular flow of conversation, seeking to clarify and understand their environment and social interactions.

3. Needing to Verbally Label Information

To understand and process information, individuals with Non-Verbal Learning disabilities often need to verbally label and describe it.

4. Visual-Spatial Difficulties

They may struggle with navigating in space, visualizing images, and determining their body’s location in space, leading to disorientation and getting lost.

5. Be Seen as ‘Naive’ or ‘Overly-Trusting’

Adults with Non-Verbal Learning disabilities might come across as naïve or overly trusting, often missing social cues that would signal caution to others.

6.. Impulsive Behaviour

Acting without taking all the details of a situation into account, leading to hasty decisions and actions.

7. Difficulty Coping with Change

Adults with Non-Verbal Learning disabilities may find it hard to adapt to new situations or changes in routine.

8. Difficulty Seeing the ‘Big Picture’

Individuals with Non-Verbal Learning disabilities may over focus on details to the extent that they miss the overall context of a situation.

How Non-Verbal Learning Disability Can Be Overcome Through the Power of Neuroplasticity

Our brains have the remarkable ability to change and adapt, a quality known as neuroplasticity.

By harnessing the principles of neuroplasticity, here at Arrowsmith, we understand - through years of practice and research - that we can target and improve the specific cognitive functions that underlie a Non-Verbal Learning disability (and other learning difficulties).

We do this by first understanding each individual's unique cognitive profile, and their specific cognitive strengths and weaknesses. With this information, we are able to build a program of cognitive exercises that are tailored to specifically target the areas in which the individual is struggling.

To strengthen the brain, our cognitive programs have five key ingredients: differentiated stimulation; attention; sustained engagement; effortful processing; and novelty and complexity.

You can read more about how these five principles harness the power of neuroplasticity and enable our cognitive programs to strengthen the brain in our blog, 5 Key Principles of Neuroplasticity.

Through targeted cognitive programming, Arrowsmith can help individuals overcome their learning disabilities so that they can lead more fulfilling and happier lives.

Do you believe you, or someone you know, might have a Non-Verbal Learning disability? The Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment is a good place to start.

Arrowsmith’s Cognitive Assessment provides individuals with in-depth insights into their unique cognitive profile, including their areas of strength, and - most importantly - their areas of weakness. From this personalized report, we are able to recommend a comprehensive solution of cognitive exercises that will address the cause of the individual’s Non-Verbal Learning disability, helping them to overcome it.

Learn About the Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young
Post by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young
June 6, 2024
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is the international best-selling author of The Woman Who Changed her Brain, and a pioneer in using neuroplasticity to change the brain, cognition, learning and social-emotional well-being of learners worldwide. Though she began life with severe learning disabilities, she built herself a better brain and developed the Arrowsmith Program, which has helped thousands to increase their capacity to learn.