What is 'Processing'?

Processing refers to how the brain takes in, uses, stores, retrieves, and expresses information.

There are many, maybe hundreds of ways in which the brain processes different kinds of information. But the CPI focuses on six main types of processing that are believed to be most responsible for learning:


jump to:

Visual Processing

Auditory Processing

Sequential/Rational Processing

Conceptual/Holistic Processing

Processing Speed

Executive Functioning


Clarification of the 6 general processing domains:

back to top 

Visual Processing involves how well a student can use visual information. When they see something, especially something complex, do they understand it quickly and easily. Can they 'visualize' things (like pictures, shapes, words, etc.) in their head? Can they remember information that they see?


Visual Processing includes:

seeing differences between things

remembering visual details

filling in missing parts in pictures

remembering general characteristics

visual-motor coordination

visualization and imagination

organization of their room, desk, etc.



Students 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:


- writing

poor handwriting

poor spelling (cannot visualize the words)

- math

difficulty visualizing problems

difficulty with cluttered worksheets

- reading

slow speed

poor comprehension

- general

poor organization/planning/neatness

difficulty rechecking work for accuracy

difficulty learning by demonstration

difficulty learning by video

back to top  

Auditory Processing involves how well a student can understand auditory information. Can they 'keep up' when people talk very fast? Can they tell voices apart easily (even on the phone)? Can they imagine the voices of familiar people in their head? Can they remember information that they hear?


Auditory Processing includes:


hearing differences between sounds/voices

remembering specific words or numbers

remembering general sound patterns

understanding even when they miss some sounds

blending parts of words together



Students with a general auditory processing disability usually have most difficulty with general reading, general writing, and language (understanding and expressing). Specific difficulties may include:


- reading

poor decoding of new words

poor comprehension

- writing

poor spelling/mechanics

poor sentence structure

- communication

difficulty with expression

poor receptive language

- general

difficulty following oral directions

difficulty learning in lectures


back to top  

Sequential/Rational processing appears to be the main filing system in the brain. 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 does a student remember details (like names, addresses, facts, etc.)? How organized are they?


Sequential/Rational processing includes:


Short-term memory for details

long-term retrieval of details

fine-motor coordination

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


Students experiencing a general Sequential/Rational processing disability often have most learning difficulties in the areas of basic reading, math computation, expressive language, and writing mechanics. Specific difficulties may include:


- handwriting


letter reversals


letters in wrong sequence (order)

- reading

decoding (sounding out words)


remembering details


- math

remembering formulas/steps

- communication

finding words for verbal or written expression

- general

planning lengthy assignments

remembering details

paying attention - easily distracted by surroundings

remembering names of people or objects

following specific directions

back to top

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.


Conceptual/Holistic (right-brain) processing includes:


memory for general themes or ideas


spatial awareness

general knowledge

inferential thinking


conceptual understanding


reading comprehension

use of context





Students 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:


- reading

understanding irony, inferences, sarcasm

general comprehension

- math

generalizing to new situations

story problems

- written language

creative writing

- communication

general language comprehension

understanding humor

- general

global/general awareness

attention - may focus too much on a specific area

 back to top  

Processing Speed refers to how fast information travels through the brain. All LD students experience some processing speed difficulty when required to process information through their weakest processing 'channel' or 'modality'. But for other LD students, a general weakness in processing speed causes difficulty in all processing areas.

It is like having the brain work at 40 miles per hour when the rest of the world (and all the information) is going 55 miles per hour. Such students just can't keep up.


Processing Speed affects:


short-term memory (with time pressure)

long-term retrieval (with time pressure)

talking speed, word-finding

writing speed

reading speed


reasoning (with time pressure)

general response speed


Students 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 include:


- reading

reading speed

ability to stay focused while reading

- math

completing a series of problems

- written language

writing speed


clarity (with time pressure)

- communication

delays in responding

slow, deliberate speech

word-finding difficulties

- general

coping 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'

back to top

Executive Functioning refers to the overall ability to manage or regulate all of the various cognitive and emotional processes.  This involves initiation, planning, organization, and execution of various tasks as well as the ability to cope with transitions or regulate emotional responses. Weakness in this area is often associated with an attention deficit disorder.                      

        Executive Functioning skills involve:

                       ability to stay focused on tasks

                       ability to plan and anticipate

                       organization of thoughts and materials

                       ability to follow-through and complete tasks

                       ability to cope with unstructured situations

                       ability to cope with changes in routine

                       ability to regulate emotions

Students experiencing general Executive Functioning difficulties often struggle academically with work-completion, organization, and motivation for any task which is perceived as difficult, frustrating, or simply unappealing.  Specific

difficulties may include:

        - reading

                       motivation when material is 'boring'

                       speed/fluency - skipping words or lines

                       remembering details


        - math

                       difficulty seeing the 'relevance'

                       difficulty maintaining motivation to complete practice worksheets

        - general

                       planning lengthy assignments

                       remembering details

                       paying attention - easily distracted by surroundings

                       completing assignments

                       following specific directions

                       ability to keep school a 'priority'

back to top


Return to the LDinfo Web Site to find out about any of the following topics (and more):

Learning disabilities - what is a learning disability (LD or SLD)?

Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a reading disability or reading disorder

Dysgraphia Dysgraphia is a writing disability or disorder

Dyscalculia Dyscalculia is a math disability or disorder

What is an attention deficit disorder (ADD, AD/HD, ADHD)?

Gifted LD: Can a student be gifted and LD?

Emotional/Behavioral issues and LD: Do LD students experience behavior problems or depression?

Section 504: What is a Section 504 plan?

What is special education?

What is processing?

What is a severe discrepancy?

What is a nonverbal learning disability (nonverbal LD or NLD)?

What is a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD)?

What is IDEA?


LDinfo Home


Copyright © 2006-2017 LDinfo Publishing
All rights reserved. Any reuse or republishing of the text or images on this web site without prior written consent of the copyright holder is prohibited.