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Making friends and fitting in is an essential part of a child’s life, and it can be challenging. All kids face social challenges at some point. But, if your child routinely has trouble connecting with people and making and keeping friends, it could be a sign of a learning or attention issue.
One issue that’s known for impacting key social skills is a range of conditions called nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD). This brain-based condition makes it difficult for kids to understand unspoken communication. Kids with NVLD tend to miss most social cues or messages sent via body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. Many even have problems with fine motor skills (using scissors, tying shoelaces, pencil grip, etc.), gross motor skills (throwing a ball, riding a bike, etc.), and spatial awareness (bumping into people and things).
A child with NVLD might not understand that a classmate who is crossing their arms and looking away does not want to talk to them. Whatever the cause, the failure to pick up on nonverbal signals can make it hard for a child to navigate all sorts of social situations. People use facial expressions, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues to convey a lot of information. One US government study found that more than 70 percent of a child’s perceptions come from the looks they see on people’s faces.
Many children with NVLD don’t get abstract concepts because they have trouble reading between the lines. If a child says, “I’m so mad I could spit,” a child with NVLD may take it literally. Often NVLD affects a child’s self-control skills such as taking turns, letting others kids speak, or keeping their emotions in check. NVLD can also cause problems with coordination and balance, as well as math skills. The following are some of the main symptoms of NVLD that affect a child’s social skills: talks too much, shares information in inappropriate ways, relies on adults to get information, does not understand facial expressions, is overly literal and doesn’t get a joke or sarcasm, withdraws from conversations with peers, and prefers talking to adults rather than other kids.
Erica Patino, an online writer, and editor who specializes in health and wellness content, states, “The signs of NVLD can vary at different ages. What you see in a grade-schooler might not be the same in a middle-schooler or high-schooler; every child is different.” Unfortunately, there are no medications or magic pills that improve social skills. However, there are effective medications for some of the problems that can occur with social skills issues. Check with your physician if you have concerns.
For more information about NVLD, check the references below.
Steve Doherty, M.S. Health Science
- NLVD Project: https://nvld.org/non-verbal-learning-disability/
- Understanding Your Child’s Trouble with Social Skills: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/social-skills-issues/understanding-childs-trouble-with-social-skills
- Social Skills Issues: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/social-skills-issues/social-skills-issues-your-questions-answered
- Social Skill Problems in Children and Teens: https://manhattanpsychologygroup.com/social-skills-problems-children