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Educators & Students with Learning Disabilities: Processing Information

Useful for elementary and secondary administrators, librarians, classroom teachers, and parents and students with Learning Disabilities

Processing Problems

 image - brain

What are Learning Disabilities?

Learning Disabilities (LD) are nerurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing, or math. They can also interfere with higher level executive function skills such as organization, time planning, and abstract reasoning, skills desperately needed by students. The types of LD are identified by a specific information processing problem (or a combination of problems) with Input, Organization, Memory, & Output:

INPUT  Getting the information into the brain

Information arrives at the brain as impulses, transmitted along neurons, primarily from our eyes (visual input) and our ears (auditory input). This input process takes place in the brain. It does not pertain to visual problems such as nearsightedness, or hearing problems. Perceiving one's environment is referred to as "perception."  

Children have visual perceptual disabilities or auditory perceptual disabilities, and some have both kinds of perceptual disabilities. Or they may have problems when both types of input are needed at the same time--for example seeing what a teacher writes on the board while listening to the explanation of what is being written. 

ORGANIZATION or INTEGRATION  Making sense of the information

Once information is recorded in the brain (input), three tasks must be carried out in order to make sense or integrate this information. First, the information must be placed in the right order or sequenced. Then, the information must be understood beyond the literal meaning, abstraction. Finally, each unit of information must be integrated into complete thoughts or concepts, organization.

Sequencing. The individual might have difficulty learning information in the proper sequence. Thus, he might get math sequences wrong, have difficulty remembering sequences such as the months of the year, the alphabet, or the times table. Or, she might write a report with all of the important facts but not in the proper order.

Abstraction. A person might have difficulty inferring the meaning of individual words or concepts. Jokes, idioms, or puns are often not understood. He might have problems with words that might have different meanings depending on how they are used.

Organization. An individual might have difficulty organizing materials, losing, forgetting, or misplacing papers, notebooks, or homework assignments. She might have difficulty organizing her environment, such as her bedroom. Some might have problems organizing time. They have difficulty with projects due at a certain time or with being on time. Organization over time is referred to as Executive Function.

MEMORY  Storing and later retrieving this information

Three types of memory are important to learning. “Working memory” refers to the ability to hold on to pieces of information until the pieces blend into a full thought or concept. For example, reading each word until the end of a sentence or paragraph and then understanding the full content.Short-term memory” is the active process of storing and retaining information for a limited period of time. The information is temporarily available but not yet stored for long-term retention. “Long-term memory” refers to information that has been stored and that is available over a long period of time. Individuals might have difficulty with auditory memory and/or visual memory.

 OUTPUT  Getting this information back out

Information is communicated by means of words (language output) or through muscle activity such as writing, drawing, gesturing (motor output). An individual might have a language disability (also called expressive language disability) or a motor disability.  


Thus, the specific types of processing problems (Input, Organization, Memory & Output) result in learning disabilities. Most often learning disabilities fall into broad categories encompassing combinations of these processing problems--dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, visual and auditory processing disorders, and nonverbal learning disorders. Many students with these LDs often have related conditions, including ADHD and disabilities that affect social skills and executive function.

From LDA: Types of Learning Disabilities

Signs of Memory Problems

Signs of Memory Problems 

 Different kinds of memory problems

  • Remembering new skills or new facts, even immediately after studying them
  • Remembering new skills or new facts for a short while (in the evening) and then forget them (in the morning)

Difficulty remembering different kinds of things

  • Things they see
  • Things they hear
  • Exact facts (state capitals, multiplication facts)
  • How do to certain things (long division, tying a shoelace)
  • The order of things (days in a week, months in a year)
  • Many times more than one type of memory problem exists--facts and sequences

Difficulty writing and composing

  • One has to remember spelling, punctuation, rules, vocabulary, ideas, organization, as well as how to actually make the letters
  • They often have trouble remembering what they were going to write because they are struggling with remembering how to write
  • Often work too slowly--concentrating so hard on remembering so much

Above from Levine, All kinds of minds, 249-50

These students usually have more than just memory problems

  • Attention and memory
  • Attention and memory and dyslexia

Students with working memory problems have difficulty with:

  • Labeling (ex: wind, rain, snow, hail, temperate, savannah, tundra, moist, dry, tropical)
  • Categorization (ex: weather, climate, temperatures, biomes)
  • Association (ex: weather is to climate)
  • Organization (ex: "The Effects of Climate and Weather on Landforms")


Specific Learning Disabilities Umbrella

From the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Dr. Sheldon Horowitz explains how processing problems (input, organization, memory, and output) are manifested in specific learning disorders.


What is Executive Function?

How our Executive Function is effected by Learning Disabilties. A "must listen" for teachers.