As the National Center for Learning Disabilities (LD) describes it, LD is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. But all learning disabilities do not look the same and, indeed, a student may have a deficit in one area or multiple areas, but not in others.
The important thing about learning disabilities is to recognize that they can create significant barriers for children learning how to read, write, do math, learn life skills and develop their abilities to plan and organize themselves. When there are underlying learning disabilities, they are likely to impact a child’s progress in more than one subject area. Because learning disabilities affect the basic processes the brain uses to receive, process, store and manipulate information, simply teaching more reading, more math or more writing is unlikely to resolve the problem. Development of those underlying skills is necessary and possible.
Common Cognitive Skill Deficits in LD
While deficits in any area of cognitive functioning can impede efficient learning, deficits in cognitive skills impact many students:
Students with learning struggles or learning disabilities often have less efficient attention processes. Often they have difficulty screening out irrelevant or unimportant information (and thus any distraction gets them off track) or dividing attention between two activities, such as listening to the teacher while taking notes.
Short-term memory and working memory are essential skills in learning. Difficulty holding information in one’s mind while doing something with it (working memory) is very often to blame for seemingly simple tasks such as copying a math problem from book to paper or remembering the first part of a sentence to the end to enable comprehension.
We receive auditory information in sequences of sounds and words. The brain’s ability to maintain auditory information in the same order it was received is important to understanding and responding appropriately.
Visual processing speed can impact students’ ability to perform tasks at an adequate pace, such as scanning, inspecting, and comparing or processing information quickly, such as obtaining relevant information from a graph or reading the faces of a group of classmates.
Forming concepts sometimes requires the integration of auditory and visual information into a single product, such as the sight and smell of an orange. When these pieces of information are not fully connected, the mental concept is incomplete. Students may struggle with this and other aspects of sensory integration.
Assessing and Remediating Learning Disabilities
The Mindprint Cognitive Assessment can be used to assess cognitive skills, including Executive Functions, Verbal and Visual Memory, Complex Reasoning and Processing Speed. It does not yield a diagnosis in and of itself, but can be used by a professional, such as a psychologist, as the basis for such a diagnosis and to determine needed supports in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan.
BrainWare SAFARI can help students with learning disabilities by strengthening the cognitive skills that will enable them to learn more effectively and more efficiently. In peer-reviewed, published research, students with specific learning disabilities who used BrainWare SAFARI for 12 weeks, improved key cognitive functions, including verbal working memory, attention, and short-term memory to the level of normally developing students. With stronger cognitive skills, these students were able to make substantial gains in reading and math — 0.8 grade equivalents in reading and 1.0 grade equivalents in math, in just 12 weeks.
BrainWare SAFARI addresses weaker skills and builds them in a comprehensive and integrated way, like cross-training for the brain. It is delivered in an engaging video-game format, which helps the skills develop more quickly and helps motivate persistence in areas where the deficits are greatest.
The program can be used as an intervention within the school setting (for example, as part of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)), or at home. Many clinicians and learning specialists use BrainWare SAFARI, along with other interventions, to help students with a variety of learning disabilities.