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Learning Differences: What is "Processing"?

Processing Explained

In a school situation, "a language-learning different child shall be defined as a child with average or above-average intelligence, with adequate vision and hearing, without primary emotional disturbance who has failed or is at high risk to fail when exposed to school experiences using conventional educational techniques. Language- learning differences include, but not exclusively, (1) dyslexia, (2) attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity, (3) dysgraphia and (4) dysphasia or a combination of these differences."

There is a physical, neurological problem with processing information.

From Shelton School, LD Information "What is Processing?" see:

What is Processing

Visual/Auditory Successful Processing

Accurate V/A Processing

Irregular Processing

Processing Disorders

Visual processing disorder

What is it?

A visual processing, or perceptual, disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. This is different from problems involving sight or sharpness of vision. Difficulties with visual processing affect how visual information is interpreted, or processed by the brain.

Common areas of difficulty and some educational implications:

Spatial relation

This refers to the position of objects in space. It also refers to the ability to accurately perceive objects in space with reference to other objects.

Reading and math are two subjects where accurate perception and understanding of spatial relationships are very important. Both of these subjects rely heavily on the use of symbols (letters, numbers, punctuation, math signs). Examples of how difficulty may interfere with learning are in being able to perceive words and numbers as separate units, directionality problems in reading and math, confusion of similarly shaped letters, such as b/d/p/q. The importance of being able to perceive objects in relation to other objects is often seen in math problems. To be successful, the person must be able to associate that certain digits go together to make a single number (ie, 14), that others are single digit numbers, that the operational signs (+,,x,=) are distinct from the numbers, but demonstrate a relationship between them. The only cues to such math problems are the spacing and order between the symbols. These activities presuppose an ability and understanding of spatial relationships.

Visual discrimination

This is the ability to differentiate objects based on their individual characteristics. Visual discrimination is vital in the recognition of common objects and symbols. Attributes which children use to identify different objects include: color, form, shape, pattern, size, and position. Visual discrimination also refers to the ability to recognize an object as distinct from its surrounding environment.

In terms of reading and mathematics, visual discrimination difficulties can interfere with the ability to accurately identify symbols, gain information from pictures, charts, or graphs, or be able to use visually presented material in a productive way. One example is being able to distinguish between an /nl and an Imp, where the only distinguishing feature is the number of humps in the letter. The ability to recognize distinct shapes from their background, such as objects in a picture, or letters on a chalkboard, is largely a function of visual discrimination.

Visual closure

Visual closure is often considered to be a function of visual discrimination. This is the ability to identify or recognize a symbol or object when the entire object is not visible.

Difficulties in visual closure can be seen in such school activities as when the young child is asked to identify, or complete a drawing of, a human face. This difficulty can be so extreme that even a single missing facial feature (a nose, eye, mouth) could render the face unrecognizable by the child.

Object recognition (Visual Agnosia)

Many children are unable to visually recognize objects which are familiar to them, or even objects which they can recognize through their other senses, such as touch or smell. One school of thought about this difficulty is that it is based upon an inability to integrate or synthesize visual stimuli into a recognizable whole. Another school of thought attributes this difficulty to a visual memory problem, whereby the person can not retrieve the mental representation of the object being viewed or make the connection between the mental representation and the object itself.

Educationally, this can interfere with the child's ability to consistently recognize letters, numbers, symbols, words, or pictures. This can obviously frustrate the learning process as what is learned on one day may not be there, or not be available to the child, the next. In cases of partial agnosia, what is learned on day one, "forgotten" on day two, may be remembered.

Whole/part relationships

Some children have a difficulty perceiving or integrating the relationship between an object or symbol in its entirety and the component parts which make it up. Some children may only perceive the pieces, while others are only able to see the whole. The common analogy is not being able to see the forest for the trees and conversely, being able to recognize a forest but not the individual trees which make it up.

In school, children are required to continuously transition from the whole to the parts and back again. A "whole perceiver", for example, might be very adept at recognizing complicated words, but would have difficulty naming the letters within it. On the other hand, "part perceivers" might be able to name the letters, or some of the letters within a word, but have great difficulty integrating them to make up a whole, intact word. In creating artwork or looking at pictures, the "part perceivers" often pay great attention to details, but lack the ability to see the relationship between the details. "Whole perceivers", on the other hand, might only be able to describe a piece of artwork in very general terms, or lack the ability to assimilate the pieces to make any sense of it at all. As with all abilities and disabilities, there is a wide range in the functioning of different children.

Interaction with other areas of development

A common area of difficulty is visual motor integration. This is the ability to use visual cues (sight) to guide the child's movements. This refers to both gross motor and fine motor tasks. Often children with difficulty in this area have a tough time orienting themselves in space, especially in relation to other people and objects. These are the children who are often called "clumsy" because they bump into things, place things on the edges of tables or counters where they fall off, "miss" their seats when they sit down, etc. This can interfere with virtually all areas of the child's life: social, academic, athletic, pragmatic. Difficulty with fine motor integration effects a child's writing, organization on paper, and ability to transition between a worksheet or keyboard and other necessary information which is in a book, on a number line, graph, chart, or computer screen.

From LDOnline

Auditory Processing Disorders

APD is a physical hearing impairment, but one which does not show up as a hearing loss on routine screenings or an audiogram. Instead, it affects the hearing system beyond the ear, whose job it is to separate meaningful message from non-essential background sound and deliver that information to the intellectual centers of the brain (the CNS). These students do not hear the subtle differences between the sounds of words.

In classrooms where most instruction is given verbally, these students are at risk of not understandind assignments, goals, and objectives. An APD can interfere directly with speech and language, but can affect all areas of learning, especially reading and spelling.   From LDonline: Living and Working with a CAPD

Signs of Auditory Processing Disorders

An auditory processing disorder can cause difficulty in distinguishing the difference between similar sounds, among other difficulties. Although auditory processing disorder is not named as learning disability under federal law, it can explain why some children may have trouble with learning and performance. Be aware that weakness can occur in one or more category at the same time. 

Auditory Discrimination 

The Skill -- the ability to notice, compare, and distinguish the distinct and separate sounds in words. A skill vital for reading.

Difficulties you observe:

  • Learning to read
  • Distinguishing the difference between similar sounds. Ex: seventy and seventeen
  • Understanding spoken language, following directions, and remembering details
  • Seems to hear but not listen

Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination

The Skill -- the ability to pick out important sounds from a noisy background

Difficulties you observe:

  • Distinguishing meaningful sounds from background noise
  • Staying focused on auditory information being given. Ex: following verbal directions

Auditory Memory

The Skill -- there are two kinds of auditory memory.

  • Long-term auditory memory is the ability to remember something heard some time ago.
  • Short-term auditory memory is the ability to recall something heard very recently.

Difficulties you observe:

  • Remembering people's names
  • Memorizing telephone numbers
  • Following multi-step directions
  • Recalling stories or songs

Auditory Sequencing

The Skill -- the ability to understand and recall the order of words

Difficulties you observe:

  • Confusing multi-digit numbers, such as 74 and 47
  • Confusing lists and other types of sequences
  • Remembering the correct order of a series of instructions

 From  NCLD Auditory Processing Disorders