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Unscrambling the Jargon of Learning Clinicians and Neurologists

Gagné identified five conditions of learning:  verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, attitudes, and motor skills. All of these aspects of learning need to function properly for a child’s learning to progress normally.  Not surprisingly,  a lot can go wrong. For most parents, the language of learning issues is foreboding, loaded with all kinds of fear for a child’s future.

Nevermind that most of the time, these words and diagnoses describe behavior, a group of symptoms. They are not pointing to any underlying disease or infliction.  That’s not to say that the language of learning issues should be ignored.  But rather, this guide explains and hopefully defangs some of the worst fears associated with the terms you might hear when discussing learning difficulties.

Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a condition that affects the way the brain processes auditory information. APD can make it difficult to understand and process spoken language, which can lead to difficulties in school and social situations.

APD is not a hearing problem, but it can often be mistaken for one. Individuals with APD usually have normal hearing, but they have difficulty understanding what they hear. APD can occur in both children and adults, but it is more common in children.

There is no single cause of APD, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Treatment for APD typically involves speech and language therapy, and the use of assistive listening devices.

If you think you or your child may have APD, interventions that work on sound-based exercises that work on processing and manipulating language can be effective. This includes Fast ForWord, used by Gemm Learning to treat APD.

Sensory Processing

Sensory processing refers to how our nervous system interprets and responds to sensory information from the environment. It is a complex process that involves receiving, processing, and responding to information about touch, smell, taste, sight, sound, and body position.

When we receive sensory information, it is first processed in the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and the spinal cord. This information is then sent to the appropriate parts of the body so that we can respond to it appropriately.

There are three main types of sensory processing: proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive.  Learn more here.

if your child has sensory processing delays, sometimes called sensory integration delays, physical interventions that work on coordination, like Interactive Metronome can be effective.

Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit

A specific reading comprehension deficit is a condition that impairs an individual’s ability to understand and process written information. This can impact a person’s ability to read and comprehend both fiction and non-fiction texts. In some cases, a specific reading comprehension deficit may also make it difficult for a person to follow directions or instructions that are written down.

There are a variety of reasons why someone may develop a specific reading comprehension deficit. In some cases, it may be due to a general learning disability or attention deficit disorder. It is also possible for this condition to be the result of brain damage or another neurological condition. Some people with a specific reading comprehension deficit may have normal intelligence and normal reading ability, but still have difficulty understanding and processing written information.

There is no single way to treat a specific reading comprehension deficit. Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause of the condition. In some cases, specialized education programs or tutoring may be helpful. In other cases, medication or therapy may be necessary.  A good starting point is a reading intervention that works on reading automaticity.  If that reading challenge can be solved, the brain will have more capacity to focus on higher order skills like  reading comprehension.


Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects reading skills. It is characterized by difficulty in accurately decoding words, and by poor spelling and fluency. Dyslexia occurs in individuals who have normal intelligence and normal vision. It is not due to neurological damage or any other physical condition.

Most people with dyslexia have trouble with some of the following:

  • Recognizing and naming letters
  • Associating sounds with letters
  • Blending sounds to form words
  • Reading aloud fluently
  • Spelling words correctly

it is important to note that dyslexia is a description of reading difficulty, not a disease or affliction. And so interventions that help less severe reading difficulties can often reduce dyslexia symptoms also.  Gemm Learning uses Fast ForWord to help dyslexia.

Decoding versus Fluency

There are two main terms describe different but related aspects of reading.

Decoding difficulties occur when a child struggles to read individual words accurately. Decoding is the skill of sounding out words. This is slowed down if the reader does not hear words clearly, and cannot clearly hear the sounds inside words.  So [space] might be heard as [sace], the [p] might not be heard. And so when the word [space] appears on a page, it is difficult to decode.

Fluency describes the ability to decode words effortlessly – quickly, accurately and automatically.   Most definitions of fluency include the concept of decoding with prosody, with expression.  This is important as being able to add intonation and expression while reading requires the decoding to be automatic, so that the reader can comprehend the text and add appropriate expression.  eader to be able to decode automatically, reading with difficulties occur when a child can read individual words accurately but struggles to read with speed, accuracy, and/or expression. Many children who have difficulty with decoding also have difficulty with fluency.


Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that specifically affects a person’s ability to perform mathematical calculations. It can impact both simple arithmetic and more complex mathematical concepts. People with dyscalculia often have difficulty understanding numerical information, manipulating numbers, and solving math problems.

Dyscalculia is thought to affect between 2 and 5 percent of the population. It occurs in both males and females, and research suggests that it may be genetic.

Symptoms of dyscalculia can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some people with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding basic concepts like numbers and numerical order, while others may have trouble with more complex mathematical skills such as multiplication and division. People with dyscalculia may also struggle with telling time, estimating quantities, or knowing left from right.  More on dyscalculia here.


Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to write. It can make it difficult to produce legible, fluent handwriting and can also impact spelling abilities.

There are different types of dysgraphia, but all share the common symptoms of difficulty with writing. Dysgraphia can range from mild to severe, and can impact any or all aspects of writing, including the ability to form letters, spell words correctly, and put thoughts into written words.

Dysgraphia can make it difficult for a person to express themselves in writing, and can impact school performance and employment. Early diagnosis and intervention is important for helping people with dysgraphia reach their full potential.

Again, please remember that dysgraphia is a description of symptoms, not a specific ailment. Quite often it’s an add on condition – “she has APD, dyslexia and dysgraphia” – that adds to a parent’s worry, but in reality is just another result of a single underlying delay.

If your child has dyscalculia and a more deep seated delays, e.g., Auditory or Sensory Processing Disorder, that more deep-seated disorder should be your starting point and focus. If you can impact the APD or SPD, all learning will start to progress more normally.

If however, there is no deeper-seated disorder, and you  suspect that you or your child may have dysgraphia, talk to your doctor or an educational specialist. First of all, try to rule out other learning disabilities or difficulties. With proper support and accommodations, people with dysgraphia can succeed in school and in life. Learn more here.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder characterized by problems with focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Symptoms of ADHD can make it difficult for children to learn and succeed in school. In addition, ADHD can cause difficulty in social situations and relationships with family and friends.

Learning diagnosis language relating to attention deficit is summarized in acronyms. The two types of ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive (PH) and Predominantly Interactive (PI) have different causes, which of course means they need different interventions and treatment protocols.

ADHD-PH tends to stem from sensory processing delays, whereas ADHD-PI tends to stem for language processing or working memory delays.  Gemm Learning using Fast ForWord to treat ADHD-PI, called inattentive ADD.