Information Processing Disorders

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Problems in any of the ways a child processes information, such as visual discrimination or understanding spatial relationships. A child’s senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch are constantly providing information, which is stored in short- and longterm memory. For each of the hundreds of things children do each day, they need to quickly decide what information to use to complete the task. Managing all of the stored information and using it effectively is called “information processing.”

A child with an information processing disorder may have trouble with one or more of the information processing skills, which interferes with using information efficiently, solving problems, or completing tasks. The inability to process information efficiently often causes frustration and learning failure.

Visual Discrimination
The ability to visually compare the features of different items to distinguish one from another. Children with problems in visual discrimination may find it hard to notice the small differences between some letters and numbers, certain colors, or between similar shapes and patterns.

Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination
The ability to separate a shape or printed character from its background. Children with problems in this area may find it hard to find the specific bit of information they need from a printed page or computer screen filled with words and numbers.

Visual Memory
Long-term visual memory is the ability to recall something seen a long time ago, while short-term visual memory is the ability to remember something seen very recently. Visual memory often depends upon the nature of the information being processed. For example, most people find it easier to remember what an object looked like four weeks ago if the object is associated with a special event. Children with problems in this area may find it hard to describe a place they have visited, remember the spelling of a familiar but irregularly spelled word, dial a telephone number without looking carefully at each of the numbers and letters on the telephone, or use a calculator, typewriter, or computer keyboard with speed and accuracy.

Visual Motor Processing
The kind of thinking needed to use feedback from the eyes to coordinate the movement of other parts of the body is called “visual motor processing.” For example, eyes and hands need to work together if the child is going to write well with a pen or pencil. Children who have problems in this area may find it hard to write neatly or stay within the margins or on the lines of a page, use scissors, sew, move around without bumping into things, place objects on surfaces so they will not fall off, or participate in sports that require well-timed and precise movements in space.

Visual Closure
Visual closure is the ability to know what an object is when only parts of it are visible. Children with problems in this area may find it hard to recognize a picture of a familiar object missing some parts, or identify a word when a letter is missing.

Spatial Relationships
Spatial relationships refer to the way objects are positioned in space. Children use their ability to recognize and understand spatial relationships as they interact with their surroundings and also when they look at objects on paper. The ability to recognize and understand spatial relationships helps them understand whether objects are near or far, on the left or right, or over/under other objects. This skill is needed to learn to read, write, count, and think about numbers. Children with problems in this area may find it hard to find their way from one place to another, or write intelligibly, or do math.

Auditory Discrimination
The ability to notice, compare, and distinguish the distinct and separate sounds in words is called “auditory discrimination.” In order to read efficiently, students must be able to isolate sounds, especially those that match letters in the alphabet. Children with problems in this area may find it hard to learn to read or understand spoken language, follow directions, and remember details.

Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination
Auditory figure-ground discrimination refers to the ability to pick out important sounds from a noisy background. Children with problems in this area may find it hard to separate meaningful sounds from background noise.

Auditory Memory
There are two kinds of auditory memory: Longterm auditory memory is the ability to recall something heard long ago, whereas short-term auditory memory is the ability to remember something heard very recently. Children with problems in this area may find it difficult to remember people’s names, memorize and recall telephone numbers, follow multistep spoken directions, recall stories they have been told, or remember lines from songs.

There are things that can be done to help a child make it easier to process information. These include:

• simplify directions
• maintain eye contact while speaking
• speak slowly, especially when providing new information
• ask the child to repeat the information

Children with LEARNING DISABILITIES often have strong preferences for one type of information processing over another, which are sometimes called “learning or working styles.” Something as simple as giving instructions both orally and in writing can be of enormous help to some children with learning disabilities.
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