Copyright 2011 or Lyons
Wednesday 20th of March 2019
Issue 3042 / zero cents

Understanding the Socially Awkward Child

Posted by on March 13th, 2012 |

Difficulty reading social situations, precocious early reading ability, sensory sensitivity, well developed vocabulary, needing extra structure to complete school work…smart kids who may be behind the curve as their peers socially mature.  Children who may have trouble understanding nuances in speech and body language. Honest to a fault and prone to believing everything friends or others tell them. These are kids who may frustrate their parents and teachers, as they are so smart yet “not living up to their potential.” These are kids who may have no or just a couple of friends and not understand why. They may feel overwhelmed by the noises, lights or even the other children in a classroom.

All these characteristics are part of a misunderstood learning disability referred to as a Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD). For years, these children were misdiagnosed as having behavior problems in the classroom, having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or having anxiety problems. While in fact what these children were struggling with was difficulty reading their social landscape. I am sometimes asked the following question “Is NVLD on the spectrum on autism?” While this is an area of controversy, my belief is that on a scale of 1 to 10, if severe autism was considered to be a 10 then Asperger’s Disorder would be a 5 and NVLD would be more like a 1. Children with NVLD can share some characteristics of Asperger’s, namely difficulty with social interactions, but often the commonalities end at that point.

When families come to our clinic with a child who is struggling with this set of issues, they are often relieved to find that there are constructive ways to help a socially awkward child or a child with NVLD. Children can be coached about how to approach social situations, what to say and how to respond to other children’s quick responses. Occupational Therapy can help decrease sensory sensitivity. Parents can be coached to learn more about NVLD and to realize that their child is not demonstrating certain behaviors (difficulty getting out the door for school, sensory sensitivity, concrete thinking) in a willful or defiant manner. These children are just overloaded by the amount of stimulation from their environments. Creating a predictable and structured environment will greatly help the child with NVLD (as it would any child)! Teachers can be educated to help kids with NVLD manage and plan their workloads…as well as keep an eye out for any social coaching that could help with friendships at school.

In the past, these children were little understood, but now we have lots of tools to help them achieve their goals and help their families in the meantime. In my practice I’ve seen many children overcome much of their NVLD, to the point that they no longer meet criteria for the diagnosis. So this is all good news for families of children with NVLD.