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Is It ADHD or NVLD?


NVLD (nonverbal learning disorder) is possibly the most misunderstood disorder that can be tricky to diagnose. ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and NVLD are neurological disorders that, despite having some of the same symptoms, are from biological brain-based differences. So how can you tell the difference, and more importantly, how can you ensure that you or your child gets the proper diagnosis and treatment?

Let’s take a closer look at these two disorders to understand them better. ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorders. It’s estimated that between 5 and 8 percent of school-age children have ADHD. NVLD, on the other hand, is much less common. Some estimates suggest that it affects less than 1 percent of the population. Those with NVLD and ADHD of all ages often struggle with paying attention, following directions, memory, and executive functioning skills. These difficulties can lead to problems with organization, time management, academic performance, social interactions, and daily life.

However, there are some critical differences between these two disorders. Symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulse control characterize ADHD. Difficulties with nonverbal communication and visual-spatial skills characterize NVLD. Poor visual-spatial skills can cause problems with math, coordination, balance, riding a bike, swimming, playing sports, cutting with scissors, handwriting, and other tasks. Difficulties in processing nonverbal communication are reading and understanding body language, facial expressions, gestures, sarcasm, tone of voice, and jokes. Individuals with NVLD must rely heavily on the words spoken by others to compensate for their inability to understand nonverbal communication. Therefore, they interpret language literally and are often misperceived by others as rigid or inflexible in their viewpoints and behaviors.


Diagnosis and Treatment

Because NVLD is not recognized in the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it’s often mistaken and misdiagnosed as ADHD. Suppose you or your child is exhibiting signs of ADHD and /or NVLD. In that case, it’s imperative to reach out to a neuropsychologist familiar with NVLD to get an accurate diagnosis so that proper treatments can be implemented. There is no one-size-fits-all profile or treatment for NVLD. While some of the interventions for ADHD help those with NVLD, they are incomprehensive. Behavior therapy and medication are treatments for ADHD. Interventions for NVLD include but are not limited to educational, occupational, speech-language, and psychological therapy. They can learn to face challenges, manage their symptoms, improve their functioning to lead productive and happier lives.

Linda Karanzalis, Board-Certified Cognitive Specialist is the author of Misnamed, Misdiagnosed, Misunderstood, a new book on Nonverbal Learning Disorder and other brain-based challenges.

Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist, world-renowned expert on ADHD, and the New York Times best-selling author of Driven to Distraction says, “Linda’s book is vivid, compelling, full of heart and fresh understanding. Karanzalis replaces suffering with clarity and triumph for the millions of people with NVLD.”

Linda, who has NVLD and ADHD, has worked for more than 25 years with individuals of all ages with NVLD, ADHD, learning disabilities, and those on the autistic spectrum. As an author, podcaster, presenter, learning specialist, and ambassador for the NVLD Project, she provides validation, awareness, solutions, strategies, and, most importantly, compassion to the millions who live with neurodiversity. Find out more about her story and book at www.lindakaranzalis.com.

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