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Processing Disorders

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Processing Disorders: Cognitive Abilities Brochure

General Processing Issues

     Some types of learning disabilities are categorized by a cognitive processing problem. This means your child may have issues with one of the following:

  • Attention The ability to stay on task in a sustained, selective, or divided way.
  • Working Memory The ability to retain and process information for short time periods.
  • Processing Speed The rate at which the brain handles information.
  • Long-Term Memory The ability to both store and recall information for later use.
  • Visual Processing The ability to perceive, analyze, and think in visual images.
  • Auditory Processing The ability to perceive and conceptualize what is heard.
  • Logic and Reasoning The ability to reason, prioritize, and plan.

       If there are significant dysfunctions in any of these seven cognitive processes, then your child probably has some type of learning disability. For instance, if “working memory” is deficient, your child may have a problem remembering instructions. If “auditory processing” is deficient, your child may have difficulty with reading and spelling. If “visual processing” is poor, your child may experience issues with reading maps, word math problems, and comprehension. If “logic and reasoning” are weak, difficulties may arise in problem solving, working with abstractions, or interpreting information. If the issue is poor “long-term memory,” it may be difficult for your child to recall dates, names, and facts on tests. Of course, some children may experience problems in more than one process category.

Learning Disabilities - Specific Disorders

     In addition to the cognitive processing categories, some types of learning disabilities are more specifically defined by education-based labels such as reading, writing, language, and math. These more specified types of learning disabilities are categorized as follows:

Common Types of Learning Disabilities


Difficulty processing language

Problems reading, writing, spelling, speaking


Difficulty with math

Problems doing math problems, understanding time, using money


Difficulty with writing

Problems with handwriting, spelling, organizing ideas

Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder)

Difficulty with fine motor skills

Problems with hand–eye coordination, balance, manual dexterity

Auditory Processing Disorder

Difficulty hearing differences between sounds

Problems with reading, comprehension, language

Visual Processing Disorder

Difficulty interpreting visual information

Problems with reading, math, maps, charts, symbols, pictures

Cognitive Abilities

Cognitive Ability




(Crystallized Intelligence)

acquired knowledge, long-term memory which includes verbal communication and information; ability to reason using prior learning

Long-Term Retrieval

Storage and retention of information with ability to retrieve it at a later time

Visual Processing

(includes visual memory) perception, analysis and synthesis of visual stimuli; storage and memory of visually presented stimuli; mental manipulations of visual patterns

Auditory Processing

discrimination, analysis and synthesis of auditory stimuli; perception and discrimination of speech sounds despite interfering background noise

Fluid Reasoning

inductive and deductive reasoning, problem solving and concept formation on novel tasks that are nonverbal or limited in language demands

Short-Term Memory

processing and holding auditory information in awareness, then manipulating it within a few seconds

Processing Speed

rapid cognitive processing without higher order thinking; attentiveness and fluency of simple information processing

Phonemic Awareness
manipulation, analysis and synthesis for discrete sounds

Verbal Reasoning
reasoning and comprehension using language, verbal expression, vocabulary

From Sherry Mee Bell, Ph.D. Based on Mather, N. "Interpretation of the WJ-R Cognitive and Achievement Batteries, Workshop presented to Knox County Schools, October 1999.  Retrieved from

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