Betsy is a sweet 3rd grader who wears her long hair in two braids and loves to run errands for her teacher. She has many friends in her class and loves everything about dogs and cats. In class, despite wanting to do well. Betsy often has difficulty following directions and seems to forget instructions almost as soon as they are explained. When the teacher meets with students in small groups, Betsy seems easily distracted and needs frequent redirection to stay on task. She often requires more time than other students to both start and complete her work. Her parents and teacher are unsure whether Betsy might have an attention disorder, a processing disorder, a hearing problem or a learning disability.
Parents, teachers and doctors sometimes mention children having a “processing disorder”. The term itself can be difficult to understand as it has several meanings. This piece will highlight what a processing disorder is and how it can be treated in children. However, it’s very important to understand that adults can also deal with the same issue and may find the information below helpful.
Identifying a processing disorder in your child can be a challenge, but Rice Psychology Group will do everything in its power to find and treat the issue.
What is a Processing Disorder?
“Processing” refers to how information is dealt with by the brain. This information must first be received through our senses, meaning it has to be seen, heard, smelled or felt. The next step involves what the brain will do with that information. One example of a processing disorder can involve memory. If information is stored in long-term memory, which ranges from 5 minutes to years, it must be “catalogued”, meaning it will be stored in such a way that makes it easier to remember at a later time. A processing disorder can result from a breakdown of this system, meaning the memory may not be effectively processed and/or retained and/or retrieved.
There are currently no diagnostic manuals labeling any disorder as a “processing disorder”, and there is limited agreement across professional disciplines if such a thing even exists. However, many health professionals relate back to the umbrella term of “processing disorder” by simply using different names for diagnoses. For example, occupational therapists have built careers around helping children with Sensory Integration Disorder, which is a problem with too much or too little sensitivity for sensory input, or difficulty processing information using the senses. Here are a few examples:
- A child who is highly sensitive to certain fabrics touching his/her skin
- A child who hates walking in sand or touching sticky surfaces
- An otherwise healthy child who has trouble tolerating loud noises
Another example involves difficulty processing information that a child hears. With this type of problem, a child might have difficulty paying attention with background noises going on, when asked to listen for long periods of time or recalling multiple pieces of information.There is no official disorder in any diagnostic manual called "Processing Disorder"... Click To Tweet
An audiologist would most likely diagnose this issue as an Auditory Processing Disorder or Central Auditory Processing Disorder. A speech/language pathologist might label it as a Receptive Language Disorder. A psychologist or psychiatrist might diagnose the child with ADD or ADHD. If you’ve kept note, these were five possible diagnoses for one issue!
How to Identify a Processing Disorder
With so many options to identify a processing disorder, it can be hard to understand its many aspects. Here is one model adapted from the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities, which breaks down processing and memory problems into specific areas of cognitive (thinking) abilities. Each of these areas should be reviewed with a psychoeducational evaluation or assessment performed by a licensed psychologist.The various ways of identifying a processing disorder makes it hard understand the disorder. Click To Tweet
Individuals can have strengths, weaknesses or average functioning in any or all of these areas, which psychologists can analyze to identify individual profiles and needs. These cognitive areas include the following:
- Visual-Spatial Processing: The ability to observe, examine, synthesize (put back together) and think using visual patterns, including the ability to store and recall things visually.
- Auditory Processing: The capacity to examine, synthesize and differentiate between sounds, including the ability to process and distinguish sounds heard under distorted conditions.
- Processing Speed: Measures the ability to perform automatic mental tasks, particularly when under pressure to maintain attention.
- Phonemic Awareness and Processing: Includes the knowledge and skills related to analyzing and synthesizing speech sounds. This includes blending sounds into words (c-a-t = cat) and rhyming and manipulating sounds (changing the “m” in mother to a “b” so it forms the word “brother”).
- Short-Term Memory: The ability to apprehend and hold information immediately to use it within a few seconds.
- Working Memory: Holding information immediately while performing a mental operation on it.
- Long–Term Retrieval: The ability to store information and easily retrieve it later in the process of thinking. Long-term retrieval should not be confused with long-term memory, which may be better described as the storing of acquired knowledge.
- Delayed Recall: Measures the ability to recall and relearn associations that were previously learned.
Attention and Executive Functioning
- Broad Attention: A complex and multilayered concept where an individual focuses on certain stimuli for information processing. These facets include focused or selective attention, vigilance or sustained attention, divided attention and attentional capacity or working memory.
- Cognitive Efficiency: This represents the ability for the brain to automatically process information.
- Cognitive Fluency: Measures the ease and speed an individual performs cognitive tasks.
- Executive Processes: Includes three aspects of executive functioning-strategic planning, proactive interference control and one’s ability to repeatedly shift their mental set.
How Can We Help?Understanding oneself is critical to changing and growing... Click To Tweet
While the term “processing disorder” is not considered an official diagnosis, it does exist as a way to identify cognitive problems. We will gather a thorough personal history and obtain information from a child’s school (if appropriate) and examine their reading, writing, math and oral language skills. As needed, we will additionally look at attention, self-control and memory. Beyond that, we assess how quickly he/she can perform simple paper and pencil tasks, manage visual information such as shapes and puzzles, as well as answer oral questions.
Our staff takes the necessary steps to evaluate social, emotional and executive functioning. Finally, we interpret the results and provide valuable information to parents, the person being assessed, teachers and other professionals as requested. Explaining results to parents or clients is one of the most important aspects of this process. Understanding oneself is critical to changing and growing, and can also dispel many misconceptions. If you have any questions, or if you’re looking for more information, get in touch with any of our Tampa psychologists today.