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Non-Verbal Difficulties

Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions form up to 90% of our communication. So what is the impact of a weakness in the cognitive function whose very job is to perceive and interpret non-verbal information?

Student in class
Man at work desk

Located in the right hemisphere in our prefrontal cortex, a deficit in the Non-Verbal Thinking cognitive function can often lead to a diagnosis of a non-verbal learning disability. 

The impact can be significant: leading to social conflict and poor interpersonal and self-advocacy skills. Social issues are caused by an underlying struggle to understand one’s own emotions as well as others, to know how to modify behaviour depending on the surrounding people and situation or learn from non-verbal cues.  

People can be misdiagnosed, misunderstood, and often develop a reputation as rude, arrogant, shy, or anti-social. 

Non-Verbal Difficulties and Cognitive Functions

Non-Verbal difficulties can be caused by weaknesses in any of the following cognitive functions:

Non-Verbal Thinking

Perception and interpretation of nonverbal world

Object Recognition

Visual memory for people, places and things

Kinesthetic Perception

Sense of body in space

Spatial reasoning

Sense of moving through space “mental map”

Mechanical Reasoning

Sense of how things operate

Abstract Reasoning

Sense of ordered sequence in a process

Discover Your Unique Cognitive Profile

Arrowsmith Cognitive Questionnaire

Take our 30-minute cognitive profile questionnaire to start the journey into understanding your brain's strengths and weaknesses through a cognitive lens.

Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment

The Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment, administered by an Arrowsmith trained professional, will provide you with an in-depth insight into your unique cognitive profile. 

A Non-Verbal Disorder is Not Just a School Problem

Student thinking in class

In fact, most individuals with NLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disability) experience anxiety due to an inability to meaningfully understand and connect with parents, teachers, peers and spouses. 

Some are able to ‘hide’ their misunderstanding – some can be charming and even precocious with language skills. But at some point, the complex tapestry of social navigation becomes too much to bear. 

Adolescence can be an incredibly painful time of social isolation or misbehaviour. In adulthood missing or misinterpreting cues means trouble setting priorities or communicating with potential employers or mates. The world can feel like a minefield.

Other cognitive functions may be part of an NLD diagnosis, including struggles to navigate physical space, have a sense of one’s own body in that space, even having a sense of how things operate or are sequenced. 

Some Features of a Non-Verbal Learning Disability

  • Poor coordination; seen as “clumsy” or always “getting in the way”

  • Always asking questions, to the point of being repetitive or interrupting the regular flow of conversation

  • Needing to verbally “label” information in order to understand it

  • Visual-spatial difficulties (navigating in space,  visualization of images, determining one’s location of body in space)

  • “Naïve” or overly-trusting

  • Impulsive – acting without taking all the details of a situation into account

  • Difficulty coping with change

  • Difficulty seeing the “big picture” or the “forest for the trees”

Non-Verbal Difficulties Do Not Need to be Lifelong

Some of the most transformative experiences come with a stronger Non-Verbal Thinking capacity. Relationships deepen, mental health flourishes, and the ability to navigate complex social worlds becomes possible. 

Contact Arrowsmith if you or someone you know could benefit from stronger sense of communication and common sense.


Interested in Exploring Non-Verbal Difficulties in More Detail?

You can find more information on this topic in Chapter 11, Leap Before You Look, of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.


Once a pinball of energy, Jessica is in control now. She is captain of her university basketball team and skillfully mediates team conflicts. Once a scattered little girl, my daughter now has emotional intelligence, focus, and discipline in spades. 

Parent, Arrowsmith Student

I have noticed my ability to empathize and use emotional intelligence has increased.

Young adult, Australia

My son is more aware of his emotions during social situations. He is better able to connect his emotions to things happening around him socially and he can better express his feelings AND communicate how his emotions are connected to social situations. He is now able to work through positive solutions to social problems whereas before he would get stuck. This is huge!

Parent, Arrowsmith Student, Canada

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