Abstract Thinking and Children with Learning Disabilities

If you’ve ever been around a child with a learning disability, then you know that abstract thinking is difficult for them. Abstract concepts such as humor, inferences, figurative thinking, analyzing situations, and word problems can be like speaking another language to these kids. Children with dyslexia and autism usually have the toughest time with this.

This can often be why reading is a difficult task to master for kids with dyslexia or autism. Of course, reading is full of inferences, main ideas and concepts, problem solving, and a host of other innuendos. To make matters worse, these kids will often take everything they say or read literally!

But even the act of sounding out words phonologically can be difficult for the student with a learning disability. If you think about it, words, numbers, and letters themselves are even abstractions.

Many things have to take place before this student is ready to understand the higher-level concepts of abstract thinking! At Harp Learning Institute, we take all struggling readers back to square one and work with phonological awareness so that students don’t have to labor over sounding out words.

The reading programs I developed (Free to Read and Touch Tile) are both based on Orton-Gillingham research, which has been proven to be one of the best ways to help students with learning disabilities learn to use patterns for sounding out words. Having a learning disability is scary enough without having the stress of an unpredictable language. The little “phonemes” in an Orton-Gillingham based program can make all the difference for these struggling readers.

My reading programs also use color, pictures, movement, crossing the mid-line of the body, patterns, and predictability to help build a reading foundation for these kiddos. Once it’s easy for the student to sound out and decode words, then the autistic child can focus on higher-level concepts like problem solving or inferences.

Of course, a host of other skills must come into play for these higher-level abstract concepts to become a natural part of the autistic student’s life.

Did you know that auditory processing skills contribute to abstract thinking? For example, putting words in alphabetical order is actually an auditory processing skill. So are analogies, directions (like east, west, north, south), figuring out the days of the week, mental math, and a host of other activities that seem simple for most of us, but can really twist an autistic student into a knot!

That’s why we take our students, especially those with dyslexia or on the spectrum, all the way back to simple auditory processing exercises like auditory memory, closure, synthesis, discrimination, and manipulation. Once these micro-skills are strong, we can naturally go in and work on higher-level skills like abstract thinking.

Step-by-step, we can build up the smaller units of learning so that abstract thinking can become a natural way of life for kids with learning disabilities. Algebra doesn’t have to seem like a foreign language. The main idea of a story or book can be easily figured out. Jokes can be understood.

Learning can be easy.

After all, isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

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