Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Aspergers versus Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD): What’s the Difference?


My 4-year-old was diagnosed with Aspergers a month ago. I went for a second opinion, and that doctor doesn’t think she has Aspergers – he thinks it is NVLD. So I was reading about them and I understand that they are very similar (except that with AS, they have obsessions). My daughter does not have anything she is obsessed with, but she does need structure and routine throughout the day to regulate herself. My daughter also has Sensory Integration Disorder, which from what I understand can coexist with AS. I don’t know if I should get a 3rd opinion or just keep the Aspergers diagnosis so she can get services in school. The doctor that says he thinks it is NVLD said that Aspergers usually isn’t diagnosed until age 5 or 6, which I don’t think is true. I am just looking for your input.


There is often confusion between Aspergers and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NLD). In fact, sometimes these two terms are mistakenly used interchangeably. There are some basic differences though.

NLD is not included with Aspergers and Autism under the DSM-IV’s umbrella term of Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Both Aspergers and NLD children may show similar social and attentional difficulties, strong verbal skills and a confusing display of strengths and weaknesses. There are a few key items that help in a differential diagnosis though:

• if the child is helped rather than hindered by your verbal explanations, then look to NLD
• if the child’s skill at deriving meaning from what he sees is a strength, then it’s more likely he has Aspergers

The Aspergers profile of neuro-psychological assets and deficits is very similar to the NLD profile. Both have neuro-developmental abnormalities involving functions of the right cerebral hemisphere. In both disorders, there is no delay in cognitive development and speech. In fact, early verbal ability is one of the hallmarks of NLD; children with NLD are often extremely verbal and early readers.

Aspergers has been conceptualized as a "Non-Verbal Learning Disability". A comparison of NLD and Aspergers children revealed 20 out of 21 similarities, including a verbal over spatial discrepancy. Aspergers may be an extreme form of NLD.

Both Aspergers and NLD children seek out social interaction, but are often rejected by their peers. A related problem shared by both disorders is the inability to perceive or understand nonverbal cues (i.e., they are oblivious to nuances of facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, gestures, and appropriate spatial distance). Children without Aspergers or NLD use eye contact appropriately and understand that you can tell how someone feels by looking at their face. These cues are "invisible" to those with Aspergers and NLD.

The most significant problem for both Aspergers and NLD children is in the area of social relationships, whether at home or school:

• exclusion and rejection become part of life
• living with this social disability and constant rejection often leads to uncertainty, confusion, insecurity, depression, and anxiety, which they may try to relieve by creating routines and rituals
• they are often accused of rudeness, laziness, lack of caring, or a poor attitude
• they are often misunderstood
• they can't "connect" socially
• wanting to make friends and fit in, but unable to, they may respond by withdrawing, acting out with emotional outbursts, or refusing to cooperate

Aspergers and NLD diverge in the affective area. Aspergers children do not feel the same range of emotions as children with NLD. Though they may feel very deeply about many things, they may not cry or smile when it's deemed appropriate. They often have a flat affect, and have difficulty with initiating or experiencing normal social relationships. Conversely, children with NLD have normal emotions, but are inept in expressing them - and in recognizing them in others - to the extent that they are expressed non-verbally.

Children with Aspergers generally have greater social problems. Their highly restricted interests present an additional obstacle to their social functioning. These restricted interests seem to be idiosyncratic to Aspergers children (“restricted interests” is not mentioned in the literature about NLD). This is the main difference between the two disorders, as they are most frequently defined clinically. The Aspergers child’s odd behaviors (e.g., rocking, flapping) can also contribute to his social problems (behaviors that are not present in NLD). In contrast, the NLD child’s social ineptness is mainly due to his inability to read nonverbal communication (e.g., facial expressions and gestures).

Literature on Aspergers doesn't mention problems with visual spatial issues, which are a major problem area for children with NLD. In fact, many “Aspies” respond well to visuals and diagrams, and are visual learners. Many find work as engineers or architects. In contrast, Children with NLD don't respond to physical demonstrations and may not understand diagrams. They can't learn by watching, and need everything explained in words. Thus, these children tend to become wordsmiths (e.g., teachers and writers) while “Aspies” often excel in math and find work in computer fields.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

1 comment:

cinc210 said...

I'm not Certain what the disorder is but always do better on the verbal part of the IQ than the performance. This last time as and adult the IQ was broken up into four parts and the verbal part without the arithmetic and working memory was the highest. From what I was told over the phone, the working memory and symbol processing was the worst but Arithmetic had a lot of word. Did problems on the test. However, did not learn to read until age 8 and do simple adding at age 8 either. I was considered also ADHD as a child and on the drugs went off at age 14.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

Click here to read the full article…

Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes.

Click here to read the full article...

Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Parents, teachers, and the general public have a lot of misconceptions of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism. Many myths abound, and the lack of knowledge is both disturbing and harmful to kids and teens who struggle with the disorder.

Click here to read the full article...

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content