Understanding Your Brain

Last week on Embracing Intensity, I talked about my own experience with a Twice-Exceptional Breakdown and this week I got to talk with ADHD coach and ADHD Essentials Podcast Host Brendan Mahan about Finding Balance in Life With ADHD and one theme that’s been coming up again and again in my interviews and solo episodes is how important it is for us to start understanding our brains so that instead of “working harder,” we can learn “how we work.”

Understanding Your Brain

For me, one huge tool that has helped me over the years as a school psychologist is understanding some basics about information processing. Now as I share this information, remember that there are a lot of models of processing out there and this is drastically over simplified, but for the sake of understanding patterns of strengths and weaknesses it has served me well in helping students understand themselves so they can learn how they learn. Even if you aren’t a parent or a student, I find it valuable because it’s never too late to learn about how we tick!

I first created a handout years ago when I first began Psycho-Educational Assessment in 2002. I was inspired by This LD Self Advocacy Manual by Scott Crouse. You can read more in depth about some of the processing areas there, and even do a free self-rating to see what your strengths and weaknesses are! I have since modified it a bit to encompass more of the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) Theory of Cognitive Abilities, which I will talk about more at a later time.

I wrote it with student’s in mind, but I believe many of us can relate!

What is processing?

Processing is how we take in information, then think about it and use it. There are many ways of processing information, but three important categories of processing are essential to learning: Sensory ProcessingCognitive Processing and Cognitive Efficiency.  Every student has different strengths and weaknesses in their ability to process information.  It is helpful to find out what those are in order to use our strengths and build on our weaknesses.

Information Processing

How is information processed?

Imagine it is your first day of school, and you are getting to know your own class.

Input– When you first walk into the room, there are all types of input, coming at you.  Your teacher introduces herself.  She uses linguisticinformation, or language, to tell you about herself.  This information is also sequential because it comes at you in a certain order. You look at the people around you to remember their faces, and glance at the posters on the wall.  This information is holistic, because you see it all at once as a complete whole.  Then the teacher gives you some free choice time to look around the room and explore.  You take in the spatial layout of the room.

Sensory Processing– This is how we take in the world through our five senses.  In school, we are most affected by our auditory and visual processing skills.  We may hear and see things fine, but have trouble understanding or interpreting them.  While you are exploring the class, you use all five of your senses to perceived process the world around you.  You hear the other kids talking, using your auditory processing. You smell and taste your morning snack.  Your eyes take in the visual information of what the room looks like, and your tactile sense feels the objects around the room.

Cognitive Processing– This is how we think about the information we perceive.  The left brain (sequential processing) sequences and organizes details while the right brain (conceptual processing) understands the concepts and big picture.  The left side of your brain pays close attention to the details around you, and organizes the information using sequential processing.  If it is working efficiently, it will store the information and make it easy to retrieve later on.  The right side of your brain helps you to understand the big picture and come up with new ideas using conceptual processing. You use your Crystalized Knowledge to use learned knowledge and experience to connect with your environment and your Fluid Reasoning to solve new problems, use logic in new situations and identify patterns.

Cognitive Efficiency– This is how efficiently we process and use the information.  Our executive functioning skills help us with mental regulation and attention, while our processing speed affects how quickly we learn and perform tasks. Our executive functioning skills help us regulate our minds and feelings in order to access and use information. If you have strong executive functioning skills, you pay close attention as your teacher goes over the school rules.  They start out in your short-term memory, and use your working memory to repeat them to yourself. Your sequential processing then organizes and files the information to help you commit it to long-term memory. Processing speed helps us learn and perform tasks in a timely manner.

Output – This is how you use the information you’ve processed.  You can either store it in your long term memory, or use it to create output.  Your teacher asks you to share examples of school rules.  Your mind looks through your memory files and recognizes some of the rules the teacher shared. You try to recall some of the rules you had in your last class.  You express your thoughts using your language skills and write them down using your fine motor skills.  Then your teacher has you get up and act out some of the rules using your language and full body movement, or gross motor skills.

More details on processing areas: http://ldinfo.com/

Information Processing