Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Nick Coady

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This study is concerned with exploring the hypothesis that the deficits associated with the nonverbal learning disability syndrome (NLD) have a direct impact on the interpretation of nonverbal social cues and that this contributes to lower social functioning and as a result, higher rates of internalized pathology in those so diagnosed. Children with NLD have significant visual, organizational and perceptual deficits. In the literature it is suggested that these impairments lead to difficulty in interpreting the nonverbal social cues of others, which in turn leads to impairments in social functioning. To examine this hypothesis a case study of two individuals was conducted. The participants in this in-depth qualitative analysis, an 11 year-old female and 13 year-old male, had been diagnosed with a subtype of learning disability (LD), labelled nonverbal impairment (NVI) for the purposes of this study. Individuals with Nvl have a similar profile to the well documented NLD syndrome (Rourke, 1989). The main data source for this study was a standardized test called the Child and Adolescent Social Perception (CASP) measure which provided a standardized score indicative of each participant's ability to interpret nonverbal social cues. In addition, a review of the transcript of the CASP administration and a videotaped debriefing interview with each child about the test, yielded further information about their interpretations of nonverbal social cues and about their general social functioning. Other data sources included two observations of each child in naturalistic settings and interviews with their respective case managers. The participants demonstrated very different patterns of social functioning, although both children had profiles suggestive of NLD. The female participant showed many strengths in relating to adults and peers but had extreme difficulty assessing the emotions of others by interpreting their nonverbal social cues. ln contrast, the male participant consistently demonstrated difficulty in relating appropriately to peers but he demonstrated a solid understanding of nonverbal social cues. The results of this study bring into question the value of the NLD subtype and subsequently making assumptions based solely on that label. This analysis highlights the necessity for in-depth individualized assessments and treatment plans for all individuals with a LD.

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