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This School Year, Have You Heard These Learning Red Flag Phrases?

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.


School girl sitting at a desk in classroom and writing in a notebook.

Cognitive skills are the underlying brain skills that make up our ability to process information and include skills like Logic & Reasoning, Attention, Memory, Processing Speed, Auditory Processing, and Visual Processing.

If one or more of these skills are weak, reading, learning, paying attention or keeping up in the classroom can be difficult.


If a cognitive skill weakness is the underlying cause of slow work, frustrations or problems in school, these struggles will not get better or go away until those weak skills are addressed.


So, as you head into the final stretch of this academic year, think back on how many of these learning red flag phrases you’ve used to describe your child or have heard from your child’s teacher(s) this year:


“I know she’s smart, but …”

• Her work doesn’t show it.

• It’s just not coming out.

• She 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 about 85% 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, Processing Speed, and especially Auditory Processing.

If your child continues to struggle in reading, it can eventually lead to problems in other subjects, too.


“She takes a long time to…”

• Finish schoolwork.

• Answer questions.

• Follow directions.


Some children 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, struggle to keep up in the classroom, 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, well, 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 regularly 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

· Impulsiveness

· General attention issues

· Spelling problems (including forgetting words after mastering them)

· Problems with if/then analogies

· Struggles with following instructions

· Difficulty comprehending numbers, directions, answers

· Trouble discerning left and right

· Hesitation to read aloud

· Poor reading comprehension

· Poor organization skills

· Forgetfulness

· Avoiding prolonged mental efforts

· Dislike or disinterest in school

· Struggles with understanding or interpreting test/exam questions


If you have used or heard any of the red flag phrases from your child’s teacher(s) this year, or if your child has several of the red-flag behaviors above, 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 that make learning easier and more efficient when they're strong.



How We Can Help

People come to BrainAbility because they want to learn faster, read better, increase attention skills, develop a sharper memory, or simply process information more quickly.

The first thing we do is administer a comprehensive Cognitive Skills Assessment.

Because each person has a unique cognitive profile, a Cognitive Assessment is the 1st step towards pinpointing strong and weak cognitive skills, and individual development needs.


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