Estimates suggest that at least 10% of school-aged children have some form of significant social challenge, including reports of frequent bullying and not having any friends. Of these 10%, 1 in 5 socially despondent children has a neurological issue that is driving his or her social developmental struggles. Neurologically-based social challenges include Autistic-Spectrum Disorders (Autism, Asperger’s, and PDD-NOS), Regulatory Disorders, and Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD).
Autistic-Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
ASD’s are among the most recognized as well as serious neurologically-based disorders of social development. A distinguishing characteristic of an ASD is a child’s innate lack of interest in social stimuli (i.e., people). Children with ASD’s tend to have very large gaps between their cognitive strengths and weaknesses, making neuropsychological testing especially important for such children. Neuropsychological testing can also help clarify if a child truly falls on the autistic spectrum, and identify the specific diagnosis (i.e., Autism, Asperger’s, or PDD-NOS).
Regulatory Disorders involve subtle cognitive, sensory, and motor processing issues that can prevent children from comfortably participating in social settings, thus affecting their social development. Regulatory disorders have been established as a distinct category – apart from ASD’s – by infant and toddler specialists, though they are often misdiagnosed as an ASD or “atypical” ADD/ADHD. Neuropsychological evaluation is very important in this group of children as their strengths and weaknesses tend to be quite scattered.
Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD)
NLD affects over 1% of the population and is found at 2-4 times the rate of all ASD’s combined. It often appears in seemingly bright children who can be highly “book smart” but perhaps lack coordination and common sense, especially in navigating their social world. NLD is often mistaken for ADD with Anxiety or Depression, though it has some similarities to Asperger’s Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder. Check out our NLD Screener for help with recognizing the symptoms of this under-diagnosed issue.
Dr. Milanovich, founder of MindMatters, is at the forefront of clarifying diagnostic issues related to social development disorders. Combining both neuropsychological and social-emotional testing creates a powerful tool in understanding the interpersonal lives of our children, which is perhaps the most important area of their development. Such testing efforts are the only way to confirm neurologically-based social disorders.