Sometimes it’s hard for parents (and even teachers!) to determine if certain struggles or behaviors are just a normal part of the learning process, or an indicator of a deeper issue. Certain problems can serve as red flags that a cognitive skill weakness may be causing serious learning struggles and holding a child back.
Cognitive skills are the underlying mental tools that make up IQ and include skills like logic & reasoning, attention, memory, processing speed, and auditory and visual processing. If one or more of these skills are weak, reading and learning can be difficult. If a cognitive skill weakness is the underlying cause of problems in school, the struggles will not ease until those weak skills are addressed.
So, as you head into conferences, or any time you talk to your child’s teacher, listen for these red flag phrases:
“I know he’s smart, but …”
- His work doesn’t show it.
- It’s just not coming out.
- He makes sloppy mistakes.
This is one of the most frustrating aspects of weak cognitive skills for parents and teachers: a smart child locked inside a struggling student. This phrase is a good indicator that several cognitive skills are very strong, while others are deficient and causing a bottleneck for learning.
“He’s below grade level in reading.”
Most reading struggles can be linked to weak cognitive skills. Studies show 85 percent of all learning-to-read problems are caused by weak phonemic awareness skills, which give us the ability to hear, blend, unglue, and manipulate the smallest sounds in a word. Reading struggles can also be caused or compounded by deficiencies in visual processing, memory, attention, and processing speed. If your child continues to struggle in reading, it can eventually lead to problems in other subjects, too.
“He takes a long time to…”
- Finish schoolwork.
- Answer questions.
- Follow directions.
Some kids take longer because they’re perfectionists, but weak cognitive skills are generally to blame if a child is always the last student done with an assignment, can’t seem to complete tasks, or takes hours to wrap up standard homework loads.
“He continues to struggle with…”
- Math facts.
- Paying attention.
- Following directions.
Some struggles are normal when learning anything. But if your child takes a longer-than-average amount of time to master grade-level learning, a cognitive weakness is most likely the root cause.
While ongoing struggles in reading and math are often clear signs of a cognitive weakness, other behaviors are also strong indicators. Red-flag behaviors that may come up in a parent-teacher conference include:
- The inability to stay on task
- Bouncing from idea to idea
- Making sloppy mistakes
- Turning in incomplete work
- Not turning in assignments at all
- General attention issues
- Spelling problems (including forgetting words after mastering them)
- Problems with if/then analogies
- Struggles following instructions
- Difficulty comprehending numbers, directions, answers
- Trouble discerning left and right
- Poor ability to use maps
- Hesitation to read aloud
- Poor organization skills
- Avoiding prolonged mental efforts
- Dislike or disinterest in school
If you hear any of the red flag phrases at conference time, or if the teacher says your child has several of the above signs, it may be time to schedule a cognitive skills assessment. After determining which skills are weak, you can focus on the most effective way to target and train those skills.
While certain games, exercise, and activities can help strengthen weak cognitive skills, one-on-one personalized brain training targets specific brain skills that, when at their strongest, make learning easier and more efficient.