Social and self perception in children with nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD)

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O'Neal, Casey Colleen

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Although not represented in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text revision (DSM IV, TR; American Psychological Association, 2001) researchers agree upon the constellation of deficits that comprise nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD). NVLD encompasses numerous perceptual deficits errors perceiving visual stimuli, problems reading facial expressions, social cues, and tone of voice. Because of these perceptual deficits and the devastating impact they can have on academic and social success, it is likely that children with NVLD also have inaccurate self perception. Understanding distortions in their self perceptions could lead to more effective treatment models for these children. ADHD/Primarily Inattentive type (ADHD/PI) has been found to be highly comorbid with NVLD. Participants came from a larger study investigating NVLD and ADHD in children. Participants were children ages 8 to 12 years, who had been screened for NVLD and ADHD. This study consisted of three groups: children with NVLD and ADHD/PI, children with ADHD/PI, and children with no disabilities. Children with ADHD/PI were included as a separate group for comparison due to the high incidence of ADHD/PI in children with NVLD. All participants completed the Rorschach Inkblot Test, as well as measures to screen for NVLD. Attentional ability was assessed through clinical interview and behavioral rating scales. The Rorschach was used to assess aspects of social and self-perception. It was expected in all of the statistical comparisons that children with NVLD would demonstrate distorted self-perception and difficulties with accurate perceptions of others while the other two groups would demonstrate performance that is within age appropriate expectations. Findings indicated that children with NVLD + ADHD/PI demonstrated more perceptual distortion than children in either the ADHD/PI or control group. Other analyses were not statistically significant, however, interpretations of group means revealed that children with NVLD demonstrated severely distorted visual perception, lower than average amounts of self-awareness, and higher than average rates of social immaturity. These findings provide empirical validation that children with NVLD demonstrate visual processing errors that cannot be attributed to inattention and likely contribute to misinterpretations in social situations.