Learning Problems and Attention Deficits

by Robert J. Doman Jr.

“Your child cannot sit still.”
“Your child is not progressing in math.”
“Your child doesn’t pay attention.”
“Your child cannot enunciate sounds properly.”

Ever read any of those statements in your child’s school report? Every year more and more children are “identified” as having a “problem” that affects their ability to learn and pay attention. A child’s grades might suggest a problem, but that is not necessarily the case. Nevertheless, school reports are often parents’ first phase of exposure to learning problems and attention deficits.

Phase two is the school evaluation of a child who has been identified. Following an evaluation, the child is often labeled and classified. Labels range from simple learning disabilities to dyslexia, hyperactivity, attention-deficit disorders, minimal brain dysfunction, perceptual impairment, and a long list of other labels depicting problems, deficits, and diseases.

Classification is an administrative process by which the child is placed into a category; consequently, the school receives state funding, and the child is placed in an “appropriate” program or class. The process often leaves parents confused and frustrated, wondering what happened to the child they thought was “normal,” if not bright.

Problems associated with learning and attention are often cloaked in mystery. Parents have difficulty discovering where the problem came from, what it really is, what specifically is going to be done to eliminate the problem (if anything), and what the future holds for their child. Parents and children are rarely told something that they need to know: Learning problems and attention deficits can be understood, treated, and eliminated.

The first step in understanding these problems is to look at them in proper perspective. Such problems are the reflection of neurological inefficiencies. Virtually every child who is evaluated is found to have some sort of inefficiency, simply because humans are in continual development.

Neurological Inefficiencies

What are the inefficiencies? Neurological inefficiencies affect how our brains receive, process, store, and utilize information. A specific inefficiency affects one or more of these processes. Identification of the specific inefficiency affecting the child begins with looking at what the child’s brain is receiving. Are the eyes and ears communicating the proper information to the brain? Often, the major problems affecting vision include myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), convergence problems (cross-eyed, amblyopia, lazy eye, wall eyes), and astigmatism. These problems can usually be addressed and treated or remedied.

Major problems affecting hearing include hypersensitivity to sound, hearing losses, frequency losses, or inconsistent hearing resulting from fluid or pressure within the ears. As with visual problems, problems with hearing are treatable—if identified. One of the great breakthroughs for auditory problems has been the development of the Listening Program. The National Association for Child Development and Advanced Brain Technologies created the Listening Program to promote development through active and passive listening.

Short-Term Memory

If the child does not have a problem receiving information (the eyes and ears work properly), the next step is to evaluate how the child processes information. We relate processing to short-term memory as reflected in visual and auditory digit spans. To be processing appropriately, a three-year-old should have a visual and auditory digit span of three, a four-year-old should have a visual and auditory digit span of four, a five-year-old a span of five, a six-year-old a span of six, and a seven-year-old a span of seven. Seven digits are considered normal beyond age seven through adulthood. Processing issues can be addressed by providing the child with quality auditory and/or visual input or, more specifically, with software made to improve sequential processing, such as Brain Builder and Project + 2.

Long-Term Memory

Following the identification and treatment of problems associated with receiving and processing information, the child’s storage of information needs to be looked at. We relate storage to long-term memory. Storage problems are reflections of neurological dysorganization—specifically, dysorganization of the cortex. Cortical dysorganization creates, or is a reflection of, a laterality problem. Failure to organize the cortex and establish laterality can result in storage problems, language issues, and emotionality problems.

Remediation of laterality problems requires identification of any dysorganization, which may exist at any level of the brain. The application of the appropriate input so as to organize the brain is required for proper development. The process of organization culminates with the establishment of laterality and brain specificity, which provides for the necessary storage, long-term memory, and retrieval, as well as the necessary emotional controls needed for function within the classroom and in testing situations.


The final piece of this almost completed puzzle involves utilization of information, the ability to retrieve information at will. Utilization is dependent on how efficiently one receives, processes, and stores the information, as well as the physical environment of the brain and the psychological environment of the individual.

The child’s general health, allergies, nutrition, and respiration influence the physical environment of the brain. Modification of diet can often improve the environment and function of the brain, as can improved breathing. The psychological environment can greatly affect the child’s performance. The learning environment needs to be positive and reinforcing for the child’s function to truly reflect the ability to learn and perform.

Inefficiencies associated with learning and attending are universal. Such inefficiencies can also be universally eliminated if approached specifically in terms of the child’s ability to receive, process, store, and utilize information. When dealing with learning problems and attention deficits, parents need to be aware of all possible factors—physical, environmental, and psychological—that can affect these conditions so that the problem is effectively understood, treated, and eliminated.


Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 5 No. 6, 1984 ©NACD

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