Cognitive Skills & Symptoms

Working Memory and Short Term Memory

Working Memory is the ability to retain multiple chunks of information for a short period of time while processing or manipulating it.

What to watch for:
Learning suffers if information cannot be retained long enough to integrate and handle it properly. A good example is the ability to follow multiple step directions. Example: when a teacher says, “take out your math book, turn to page 54 and work the even number 2 – 12.” If a student needs to copy from the board, working memory enables him to remember the entire sentence, instead of having to look up after writing each individual word. It also affects attention and focus.

Improvements to look for:
Better able to follow multi-step directions, able to remember instructions without rereading or asking them to be repeated, better able to maintain focus, better participation in classroom discussion and conversations, etc.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term Memory is the ability to both store and recall information for later use. This includes long-term storage and retrieval, requiring the child to learn, store and retrieve a series of visual-auditory associations. This skill is critical for the ability to recall and produce past information learned (ex: math facts, spelling rules, sight words, math equations.)

What to watch for:
If the ability to store and retrieve information is poor, wrong conclusions and wrong answers will result, especially on subjects that are not of interest.

Improvements to look for:
Better fact retention for tests, ability to answer questions when called upon in class, more confidence in materials which tends to lead toward more class participation, remembering to turn in assignments, names, etc.


  • Sustained Attention enables you to stay on task for a period of time.
  • Selective Attention enables you to stay on task even when a distraction is present.
  • Divided Attention allows you to handle two or more tasks at one time.

What to watch for:
The inability to stay on task for long periods of time, to ignore distractions, or to multi-task will limit the student’s other cognitive skills – which will impact all academic and life skills.

Improvements to look for:
Able to stay on task for longer periods of time (particularly when the task is tedious or uninteresting for the student), increased ability to ignore distractions while working, able to complete more tasks at once.

Executive Processing Speed

Executive processing speed is the rate at which the brain handles information. This includes attention and concentration, filtering distractions, and the ability to perform tasks in a reasonable amount of time.

What to watch for:
If processing speed is slow, the information held in working memory may be lost before it can be used, and the student will have to begin again. Students with slow processing speed can be very distracted by the environment or thoughts unrelated to the task they are trying to complete. Slow processing speed makes it difficult to get things done in the allotted amount of time, keeping up with what is being taught in class, and recalling information when called upon.

Improvements to look for:
Able to multitask (e.g.: take notes while listening to a teacher), able to ignore distractions, able to stay on task for longer periods of time, able to complete work and life tasks faster (eg: finishing tests faster, less reminders needed to get back on task, less procrastination, etc.).

Logic and Reasoning

Logic and reasoning skills include the ability to reason, prioritize, organize and plan. This includes catching on to new concepts quickly, seeing the “big picture,” logically sequencing, organizing and prioritizing.

What to watch for:
If these skills are not strong, academic activities such as problem solving, math and comprehension will be difficult. Students with poor logic and reasoning might say, “I don’t get it” and need a great deal of support whenever performing an unfamiliar task. Logic and reasoning also affects reading comprehension.

Improvements to look for:
Faster and more complete understanding of new concepts, able to develop a plan and to problem solve, increased willingness to try something new, “I can do it” attitude, more independent work/selfstarter, etc.

Word Attack

Word attack is the ability to read a word that the student has never seen before. This subtest determines a reader’s decoding strategy and ability.

What to watch for:
Student with weaknesses in this area are likely to avoid or dislike reading. While reading aloud, some words may be misread, added or skipped entirely. Unfamiliar vocabulary will be especially challenging for these students, who will sometimes mumble or whisper to disguise their inability to pronounce new words.

Improvements to look for:
Able to sound out unknown words, more confidence in reading new materials, better fluency and better comprehension.

Visual Processing

Visual Processing is the ability to form and manipulate a mental picture in the “mind’s eye.” This skill is important for reading comprehension (if the story isn’t playing out in their head, it isn’t interesting or memorable), the ability to read graphs, maps, perform math word problems and geometry.

  • Visual processing is the ability to perceive, analyze, and think in visual image.
  • Visual Discrimination is seeing differences in size, color, shape, distance, and the orientation of objects.
  • Visualization is creating mental images.

What to watch for:
When visual imagery is poor, tasks like math word problems and comprehension, which require seeing the concept/object in the student’s “mind’s eye,” are difficult.

Improvements to look for:
Increased ability to remember where things are placed, improved reading comprehension, improvement in doing math word problems, better able to recall and give directions.

Auditory Processing

  • Auditory Processing is the ability to perceive, analyze, and conceptualize what is heard and is one of the major underlying skills needed to learn to read and spell.
  • Auditory Discrimination is hearing differences in sounds, including volume, pitch, duration, and phoneme.
  • Phonemic Awareness is the ability to blend sounds to make words, to segment sounds, to break words apart into separate sounds, and to manipulate and analyze sounds to determine the number, sequence, and sounds within a word.

What to watch for:
If blending, segmenting, and sound analysis are weak, sounding out words when reading and spelling will be difficult and errorprone.

Improvements to look for:
Improved ability to decode unknown words, able to drop, replace, and isolate sounds in a word, less guessing while reading, more fluent and faster reading, improved comprehension as a result of better fluency and less labored reading.


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Metro Learning Solutions takes a different approach when addressing learning struggles. We take relevant, research-based studies designed to uncover any cognitive weaknesses that might be responsible for learning difficulties. Our goal is to turn these weaknesses into strengths.

We serve families in the Metro Des Moines, Iowa area.

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