Chapter 5


Processing: The Cognitive Channels


Words to know for chapter 5:


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


Rational - piece by piece


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



'Now let's 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 processing areas:






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.




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
  • 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


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:


- handwriting
letter reversals


letters in wrong sequence (order)
- reading
decoding (sounding our 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


Is sequential/organizational processing a strength or weakness for you?

trouble with numbers


Conceptual/Holistic (right-brain) processing includes:


  • memory for general themes or ideas
  • reasoning
  • spatial awareness
  • general knowledge
  • inferential thinking
  • estimation/approximation
  • conceptual understanding
  • creativity/inventiveness
  • reading comprehension
  • use of context
  • rhythm
  • music
  • art


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:


- 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


Is conceptual/holistic processing a strength or weakness for you?



The final processing area for us to explore is Processing 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:


  • short-term memory (with time pressure)
  • long-term retrieval (with time pressure)
  • talking speed, word-finding
  • writing speed
  • reading speed
  • attention
  • reasoning (with time pressure)
  • general response speed


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 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'



Is processing speed a strength or weakness for you?

too fast


Review Questions:


1. What are the two 'cognitive' areas of information processing discussed in this chapter?



2. Which side or 'hemisphere' of the brain is most responsible for 'conceptual' processing ?



3. Which cognitive processing modality is best used for memorizing specific facts?



4. Which cognitive processing modality is most 'creative' at developing new ideas or inventions?



5. What is meant by 'inferential thinking'?



6. Why does 'processing speed' affect all LD students?





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  • Chapter 2 - What Causes Learning Disabilities?
  • Chapter 3 - Discrepancy = Underachievement 
  • Chapter 4 - Processing: The Sensory Channels
  • Chapter 5 - Processing: The Cognitive Channels
  • Chapter 6 - Processing: Sensory + Cognitive
  • Chapter 13 - Becomming an Effective Self-Advocate


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