LD Self-Advocacy Manual
Processing: The Key to the Mystery
Words to know for chapter Four:
|Process - how your brain uses information
Compensate - using a strength to make up for a weakness
Storage - putting something away for safe keeping
Retrieval - getting something out of storage
Sensory - using your senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste)
Cognitive - using your brain
Sequencing - putting details in order
|Conceptual - understanding concepts and deep meaning
Holistic - looking at the "whole thing" instead of the parts
Inferential - using your mind to "fill in" missing information
Channel - a path used for information to travel
Modality - a method used for processing information
|"For the next step in this mystery, we will need to explore the dark and dangerous caverns of your brain. We will follow the same pathways that information travels to find out how your brain operates. You might want to wear gloves....this could get messy."|
As we have learned, having a learning disability means
that information gets "stuck" or confused while going through, or being
"processed" by your brain.
But what is "processing"???
There are many, maybe hundreds of ways in which your brain processes different kinds of information. But we will just focus on two main types of processing that are believed to be most responsible for learning:
Entering the brain - The sensory channels:
Information is provided in many different ways but first enters the brain through the 5 sensory processing channels or "modalities" which include:
These channels are the first areas where information processing
difficulty can occur.
But, how often do you really taste or smell things in school? And, even though you sometimes touch or feel things in school, you aren't going to have trouble learning just because things don't "feel" right. So really, the main sensory processing areas that can cause you trouble in school are:
|Important clue!!!!! Sensory processing is different from how well you see or hear. A person with a visual processing disability is actually able to see as well as anyone else, but his or her brain has difficulty making sense of visual information. For such a student, auditory information is usually processed much faster and better.|
Other sensory processing channels including smell, taste,
and touch can be important alternative processing channels but are seldom,
if ever found to be primary areas of information processing disability.
The sense of touch can be especially important and will be discussed further
when we investigate "Haptic" processing.
Right now. let's look closely at visual and auditory processing.
Visual Processing involves how well your brain can use visual information. When you see something, especially something complex, do you understand it quickly and easily. Can you "visualize" things (like pictures, shapes, words, etc.) in your head? Can you remember information that you see?
Visual Processing includes:
|seeing differences between things|
|remembering visual details|
|filling in missing parts in pictures|
|remembering general characteristics|
|visualization and imagination|
|organization of your room, desk, etc.|
People with a general visual processing disability often
experience most learning difficulty in the areas of math and spelling
because they have trouble "visualizing" words, letters, symbols, etc.
Specific difficulties may include:
- writingpoor handwriting poor spelling (cannot visualize the words)- mathdifficulty visualizing problems difficulty with cluttered worksheets- readingslow speed poor comprehension- generalpoor organization/planning/neatness difficulty rechecking work for accuracy difficulty learning by demonstration difficulty learning by video
Do you think Visual Processing is a strength or a weakness for you?
Auditory processing involves how well you can understand
auditory information. Can you "keep up" when people talk very fast? Can
you tell voices apart easily (even on the phone)? Can you imagine the voices
of familiar people in your head? Can you remember information that your
Auditory Processing includes:
|hearing differences between sounds/voices|
|remembering specific words or numbers|
|remembering general sound patterns|
|Understanding even when you miss some sounds|
|blending parts of words together|
People with a general auditory processing disability usually have most difficulty with general reading, general writing, and language (understanding and expressing). Specific difficulties may include:
Do you think Auditory Processing is a strength or weakness for you?- readingpoor decoding of new words poor comprehension- writingpoor spelling/mechanics poor sentence structure- communicationdifficulty with expression poor receptive language- generaldifficulty following oral directions difficulty learning in lectures
Don't forget!!! Auditory and visual processing involves
much more than whether you can see and hear.
What is important is how well your brain is able to understand and use the information after you see and hear it.
Now lets go deeper into the brain.
The 2 main cognitive processing channels:
After information is processed through the sensory channels, it is passed along to the cognitive processing areas for further understanding, storage (memory), and later retrieval. Although there are thought to be many different specific types of cognitive processing, research about the brain suggests that two of the most important processing areas are found in the two sides or "hemispheres" of the brain. Let's look closely at these:
|Left Brain||Right Brain|
Sequential/organizational processing is the main filing system in your brain and is done in the left hemisphere. It involves organizing and memorizing specific bits of information including facts, figures and formulas.
This is very much like a computer organizes and stores information. How well do you remember details (like names, addresses, facts, etc.)? How organized are you?
Conceptual/holistic processing involves looking for "the big picture", overall patterns and underlying concepts for use in higher-order thinking, creating, and reasoning.
Conceptual/holistic filing is like throwing things into boxes with very general labels. Do you see "the big picture"? Do you understand general ideas? Are you creative and inventive?
In general, the right side of the brain does most of the
thinking, reasoning, and creating. The left side organizes these thoughts
and ideas for efficient storage and expression.
|Left Brain||Right Brain|
For most people, both sides of the brain work together very well. But for many LD students, one half of their brain works much better than the other half. This causes problems learning certain kinds of information.
For example, if your right brain works much better (or faster) than your left brain, you have lots of wonderful ideas but can't get them organized well (or fast enough) for expression (especially in writing).
On the other hand, if your left brain works better (or
faster) than your right brain, you are very good at memorizing and organizing
details but have trouble generating new ideas or understanding concepts.
Now let's see how these two processing areas affect learning.
Sequential/Organizational (left-brain) processing includes:
|Short-term memory for details|
|long-term retrieval of details|
|finding the words you want to say or write|
|organization of your thoughts and materials|
|writing mechanics (spelling, punctuation)|
|reading speed/sounding out new words|
|attention to details|
|putting words and thoughts in order|
People experiencing a general Sequential/Organizational disability often have most learning difficulties in the areas of basic reading, math computation, expressive language, and writing mechanics. Specific difficulties may include:
- handwritingspeed/clarity letter reversals spelling/mechanics letters in wrong sequence (order)- readingdecoding (sounding our words) speed/fluency remembering details attention/concentration- mathremembering formulas/steps- communicationfinding words for verbal or written expression- generalplanning lengthy assignments remembering details paying attention - easily distracted by surroundings remembering names of people or objects following specific directions
Is sequential/organizational processing a strength or weakness for you?
|memory for general themes or ideas|
|use of context|
People experiencing a general conceptual/holistic processing disability often perform quite well during early school years but later experience much difficulty with reading comprehension, math reasoning, and creative writing. Specific difficulties may include:
- readingunderstanding irony, inferences, sarcasm general comprehension- mathgeneralizing to new situations story problems- written languagecreative writing- communicationgeneral language comprehension understanding humor- generalglobal/general awareness attention - may focus too much on a specific area
Is conceptual/holistic processing a strength or weakness for you?
The final processing area for us to explore is
Speed. This refers to how fast information travels through your brain.
All LD students experience some processing speed difficulty when required to process information through their weakest "channel" or "modality". But for other LD students, a general weakness in processing speed causes difficulty in all modalities.
It is like having your brain work at 40 miles per hour when the rest of the world (and all the information around you) is going 55 miles per hour. You just can't keep up.
Processing Speed affects:
People experiencing a general Processing Speed disability often have learning difficulties in all academic areas due to their inability to process all types of information quickly. Specific difficulties may included
- readingreading speed ability to stay focused while reading- mathcompleting a series of problems- written languagewriting speed mechanics clarity (with time pressure)- communicationdelays in responding slow, deliberate speech word-finding difficulties- generalcoping with implied or expressed time pressures always "a step behind" difficulty maintaining attention to tasks exceeding time limits during tests trouble with social pressures to perform "faster"
Is processing speed a strength or weakness for you?
Sensory + Cognitive = Perfect Partnership
Important!! Every task that you do requires a combination
of sensory and cognitive processing. Remember, all information first enters
the brain through at lease one of your senses, then goes on to the cognitive
processing areas for understanding and storage. So both types of processing
For example, if you look up a phone number in the telephone book you first use visual processing to get the information into your brain, then sequential processing to remember the order of the specific numbers.
So, if you have a problem with this task, it could be caused by either visual processing weakness or sequential processing weakness.
On the other hand, if you have trouble remembering numbers that someone says to you, that problem could be caused by either auditory or sequential weakness.
Here's another example. Pretend you have just witnessed a bank robbery.
Let's list the different things you might have "witnessed"
along with the type of processing you would have used:
|What you witnessed||Processing Used|
|A man running||visual + conceptual|
|wearing green sweater||visual + sequential|
|and a mask||visual + sequential|
|He was short and thin||visual + conceptual|
|He said, "out of my way!"||auditory + sequential|
|He had a gruff voice||auditory + conceptual|
|Sounded like he was limping||auditory + conceptual|
Looks like your "witnessing" helped to capture this dangerous
You can see from this example that specific observations involve "sequential" processing but general observations are more "conceptual".
As these examples demonstrate, you actually use several
different processing areas for most tasks.
The overlap between processing areas may make it seem that you experience difficulty in several areas. That's ok. What we are looking for is the one area that causes you the most difficulty most of the time.
The overlapping relationships between the sensory and cognitive processing modalities is shown below:
Important clue!! If you have a weakness in one channel or modality, the others modalities become "strengths" that you can use to "compensate". For example, if Auditory processing is a weakness, Visual processing is probably a pretty good strength. And if Sequential processing is a weakness, Conceptual processing is probably a strength. This relationship will become very important when we explore ways of making learning easier for you.
"And we have learned that every learning task requires a combination of at least one area of sensory processing and one area of cognitive processing. Some tasks actually required several different types of processing at the same time!"
"Have we uncovered your area of greatest processing difficulty?"
Most LD students will recognize one of the 5 processing areas discussed in this chapter as their biggest problem.
Once in a while an LD student will have a very specific processing weakness that does not fall into one of the areas covered in this chapter. If this is the case for you, please consult your case manager or school psychologist to find out more about your processing style.
What about Haptic Processing?
Many LD specialists refer to haptic processing as being very important for LD students. Haptic processing involves learning through touch, feel, and movement. And indeed, many LD students are able to learn very well through their "haptic" channel. But haptic processing is not really a separate processing area but is actually a combination of the sense of touch and the conceptual/holistic processing modality. In other words, a student with strong conceptual/holistic processing and a good sense of touch will learn very well "haptically". But, since very little "haptic" information is available in school, haptic processing is not considered an area of disability. But you certainly may be a very good "haptic learner".
"Well, detectives. Since processing is the "key" to this mystery, then it would seem that the mystery has been solved! Right?"
"Wrong! I have "peeked" ahead (as any good detective would) and found many more pages to explore. There must still be more to this exciting mystery!"
"Let's continue, shall we?"
|1.||What are the five areas of "sensory" processing discussed in this chapter?|
|2.||Which two sensory processing areas are most important for learning?|
|3.||How is "visual processing" different from how well you can "see"?|
|4.||How is "auditory processing" different from how well you can "hear"?|
|5.||Can your other senses (touch, smell, taste) be used for learning?|
|6.||What are the two "cognitive" areas of information processing discussed in this chapter?|
|7.||Which cognitive processing modality is best used for memorizing specific facts?|
|8.||Which cognitive processing modality is most "creative" at developing new ideas or inventions?|
|9.||Why does "processing speed" affect all LD students?|
|10.||What combination of processing areas is required to learn a list of spelling words?|
Return to Table
Proceed to Chapter 5 -Using Accommodations
Published with Permission Of Writer: Scott L. Crouse, Ph.D.
LDInfo.com: A website dedicated to the advancement of practical knowledge and understanding about the often mysterious world of Learning Disabilities.
Copyright © 1996 Scott L. Crouse