Can a School for Dyslexia Benefit a NLD Child?

    Because the diagnosis of dyslexia is long established, many communities have schools and programs for children with these learning problems. However, nonverbal learning disabilities are a more recent area of interest to educators. Many children and adults are just being diagnosed with this disorder, and while much academic interest is being generated, there is a dearth of programs and resources available. How frustrating for parents to finally find out what their child is suffering from and what his needs are and be unable to help him. 

    Twelve years ago, when my daughter was six years old, it became obvious that she could not handle a regular mainstream classroom situation. A recent psycho-educational evaluation had shown a twenty-five point difference between her verbal and performance I.Q.  But because her verbal score was in the superior range and none of her performance subtests were significantly below normal, we were told that she did not qualify for any resources for the  learning disabled that our public school system offered. So we selected a small private school that had a reputation for creative schooling, small classes, and warm and caring teachers.

    It was a disaster. The highly stimulating atmosphere of the classroom with its multiple groups, high noise levels, abundance of brightly colored bulletin boards, and circular seating arrangement overwhelmed my daughter. She had trouble following directions, paying attention. She kept falling out of her seat. The teacher grew impatient and grouped her with the boys who were behavior problems. She was constantly yelled at, even sent to the principal's office. It didn't take the kids very long to ostracize her as well.

    Our only alternative was to place her in a well-established private school for dyslexia in our community. Though the teachers there did not know anything about nonverbal learning disabilities at that time, they were astute enough to realize that our daughter's testing profile was very unusual. In fact, it was almost the opposite, or mirror image, of the typical profile of their average student. Because our daughter had significant fine and large motor problems, and particularly visual-motor difficulties, they were willing to work with her.

    How fortunate we were. The school realized that many kids thrive in a highly structured classroom with minimal competing visual and auditory stimuli. Though our child's problems were not exactly like those of the other children at the school, there was enough crossover so that she was able to benefit from the curriculum. She was clearly the top reader at the school, and the biggest klutz!

    Many of the techniques used in teaching the dyslexic child were of enormous value in remediating her visual-motor handicap. Dyslexic children also have difficulty copying from the board. Finding definitions in a dictionary was an overwhelming task until she learned to cut out a window in an index card and place it over the entry she needed to copy. In doing math problems, she learned to turn ruled paper on its side and use the lines to create columns.

What a clever way to work long division. She learned to talk her way through her mathwork; each problem became a little story (let's go to this house to borrow a ten…). The school's speech therapist worked to make her robotic speech a little more age appropriate and taught her slang expressions; the occupational therapist worked on her sensory integration concerns. Even though she was extremely uncoordinated, a very understanding physical education coach applauded her effort and good sportsmanship with constant positive feedback.

    Yes, the school did not address some of the problems we needed to attack. The focus was purely academic and little attention was paid to remediate social skill deficits. Also, a curriculum that focused much of its energy on decoding problems did not have the ability to address more sophisticated reading comprehension issues. NLD kids need particular help with implied information, inferred knowledge, and metaphorical language. Not having all of her needs met clearly was not of utmost importance at that time. We had a happy child who was learning in a stress-free environment.