National Institute for Learning Development - NILD

About NILD


NILD Therapy Handwriting

  • Began in 1973
  • Builds competence and confidence in all learners
  • Trained 10,000+ educators
  • Assisted more than 100,000 students in the United States and over 40 countries
  • Endorsed by experts in education and several organizations
  • Praised by parents, students, and educators who have seen lasting results
  • Currently, more than 1,000 active therapists in 35 US states and 16 countries


In 2012, NILD was one of two organizations in the US to receive the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) accreditation for meeting teacher training standards in reading. The IDA standards provide a comprehensive, research-supported documentation of what every teacher needs to know and be able to demonstrate, whether they are teaching students with dyslexia, other struggling readers, or the general student population ( International Dyslexia Association has endorsed our programs for children with reading difficulties… [Read more Endorsements]


“They are a group that truly focuses on the whole child, touching both the hearts and minds of students, and reinforcing learning, hope, and resilience…” [Read more Testimonials]

“NILD has helped me bring my grades up to honors level. Now I finish my homework quickly…” [Read our Student Success Stories]


The NILD Educational Therapy® model was developed in the 1960s by Deborah Zimmerman, a nurse and educator. Many of the educational techniques she developed were shaped by her work with early pioneers in the field of learning disabilities such as Archie Silver, M.D. and Rosa Hagin, Ph.D. In 1973, Deborah’s techniques were introduced into a private school in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1982, the Norfolk Institute for Learning Disabilities was established as a 501(c)3 charitable organization under the direction of Grace Mutzabaugh. As NILD’s influence broadened, the name was changed to the National Institute for Learning Disabilities.

In 2002, following NILD’s 20th anniversary celebration, the Board of Directors approved the development of Discovery Program, Inc., a community-based model to serve students outside private school settings. Discovery Program, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of NILD and is our prototype of community-based models currently servicing students within the cities of Hampton Roads (

In 2007, Dr. Kathy Hopkins, NILD’s then Executive Director, led the organization through significant changes, including research and development of group models of intervention, expansion of the community-based model, Discovery Program, and our online component to the NILD courses. Dr. Hopkins also announced the organization’s name change to the National Institute for Learning Development at our 25th anniversary conference. This name change more accurately reflects our organizational direction. With headquarters in Suffolk, Virginia, NILD continues to serve educators and students around the globe.


Deborah Zimmerman NILD's Author

Deborah Zimmerman
NILD’s Author

We owe a debt of gratitude to the author of NILD methodology, Deborah Zimmerman (1912-2005). Deborah Zimmerman was born on December 29, 1912, in Burnham, Pennsylvania, the ninth of ten children. On a personal mission to experience more of the world, she left her small town and moved to New York City. Later, in 1932, Deborah graduated with a nursing degree from Philadelphia General Nursing Hospital. She had developed an interest in helping those with physical disabilities. She sensed a certain indistinct call upon her life but no clear direction as to specific details. After graduating, she worked as a private duty nurse and found herself employed by a wealthy family in Manhattan who had a grown daughter with a neurological disease. This caused spastic paralysis and appeared to be life threatening. Neurologists insisted that the young woman would never recover. Deborah realized that the physical therapy the young woman was receiving twice a week was not sufficient to overcome her profound difficulties. More stimulation was needed. A contract that began as a two year commitment extended to four years of highly intense physical and mental stimulation. In spite of all the professional objections, the young woman began to recover and actually regained her previous abilities. She was no longer an invalid, but a woman who could swim, ride a horse and even drive a car. This experience convinced Deborah that the brain could be modified and she was determined to follow her convictions.

She attended Eastern Baptist seminary and then returned to New York to pursue a teaching career, earning her BS in Education. Classroom teaching was frustrating for Deborah, however she felt drawn to those students who struggled to learn. Still searching for answers, she enrolled in a Master’s program for special education, and attempted to convince her professors that stimulation, not easier materials would be a more appropriate approach to teach students with learning challenges. Her professors did not agree.

Deborah continued to teach and study, earning a Reading Specialist’s degree. Her search for effective methodologies led her to Anna Gillingham, Dr. June Orton and later Dr. Archie Silver, Dr. Rosa Hagin and Dr. David Wechsler. At Bellevue Medical Center in New York City she participated in research studies, conversations, investigations and assessments these renowned researchers were conducting and began to develop her own program of educational therapy based upon their ideas and expertise.

In the years that followed, Deborah took some of the ideas that she had observed at Bellevue Medical Center and infused her own special touch of genius derived from endless journeys in clinical and educational settings over a period of twenty years. She continued to research the best materials and methods that were available, discarding some and keeping others until she had formed the model we use today in NILD Educational Therapy®. Deborah took the methods she had learned and applied her conviction that stimulation redirects and develops cognitive competency. She was convinced that the hard work of both the educational therapist and the student would produce lasting results. The right tools were important.


Grace Mutzabaugh NILD Founder

Grace Mutzabaugh
Founder of NILD

Meanwhile, Grace Mutzabaugh, (1924-2006) another nurse educator, was searching for a program that would help struggling learners in Christian schools. She, too, was passionate to find answers.

Grace was born in 1924, in Columbia, Pennsylvania, the eleventh of thirteen children. Her father and mother were hard-working, devoted parents who instilled Christian values in their children. Early in her life Grace wanted to be a missionary, deciding that the best way to serve on the mission field was to become a nurse. This was a natural course to follow given her compassionate nature. She completed her nurses’ training during the war while facing obstacles of poor health, misunderstanding of family members and great confusion regarding her future. It seemed that her failing health was frustrating her plans. In fact, the doctors told her to assume part-time employment for the rest of her life for physically she would not be able to withstand the rigors of full-time work. She was soon to prove them wrong.
Grace’s determination was certainly not factored into the doctor’s diagnosis. Grace remembered the “deal” she had made with God when agreeing to serve Him as a young woman: “It would be so nice if you would let me be a teacher.” (p 23)

On this remembrance, she enrolled in Elizabethtown College in 1954 to become a teacher. She went on to found a school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and began to encounter bright children who were unable to read. By 1960, Grace moved to Virginia and served on the staff of Norfolk Christian Schools as classroom teacher, reading specialist and eventually administrator of the Lower School. During this time, she received a Master’s degree in Remedial Reading at the University of Virginia.

In 1973, while Deborah was giving educational therapy in the basement of her home, Grace was pleading with the administration of Norfolk Christian Schools (NCS) to “do something about these children”. Shortly thereafter, Rev. John Dunlap, pastor of Tabernacle Church in Norfolk, received a letter that would result in the first meeting of Grace and Deborah. These two determined ladies had a mutual passion to help children succeed in school. Out of this meeting, a work of great consequence was born.

Grace brought the training Deborah had given her in New Jersey back to Norfolk, Virginia and launched a program to help struggling learners at Norfolk Christian Schools. Twenty-three parents were eager to immediately sign up for this assistance. The 1973-74 school year began with Grace and her three newly trained teachers/educational therapists in a pilot study. Each of the teachers took on two educational therapy students after school beyond their fulltime responsibilities in the classroom. Grace worked with three students after school and on Saturdays. The next school year saw the opening of a new department known as” Discovery” with four educational therapists serving 17 students.

Grace knew that she needed support, leading to an Advisory Board that was formed in the fall of 1974. Grace took three more teachers to Deborah Zimmerman in New Jersey for training in August 1975. Returning to school in September of that year, 28 students in grades one through twelve were served. Deborah informed Grace that it was time for her to start training others. The first official workshop was offered in Norfolk during the summer of 1976.

Before long, other parents and teachers from around the country were asking for the program to be replicated in their schools. In 1982, the Norfolk Institute for Learning Disabilities (NILD) was born.

The birth pains were intense.  Grace tells her story in A Work of His Grace (2000). Opposition and ridicule were woven into Grace’s daily experiences, but she persevered through the trials and saw her “child” safely delivered. She had begun to realize that even though she was not a missionary on foreign soil, she had found great joy in the work of rescuing lives from frustration and failure. She used to sign her letters, “Your missionary to the LD world”. Grace fully believed that God had answered her earlier request that, “If you show me a program that works, I’ll give the rest of my life to it.” (p 26)

Over the next 30 years, Deborah and Grace witnessed a great movement begin. From the small educational therapy station in Deborah’s basement to literally thousands of therapy stations around the world, these pioneers were thrilled to see schools embracing this work, teachers finding answers that applied in their classrooms and parents rejoicing in the help their children were receiving. The respect they held for one another remained throughout their lives.

The investment of these two lives, well lived, has been extraordinary. Because of their faithful pursuit of help for struggling learners, a wave of hope now literally encircles the globe. Their convictions have stood the test of time. Children can be built rather than repaired. Grace and Deborah’s diligence in the face of many obstacles, barriers and skepticism has yielded great fruit.

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