5 Steps to Engineering Attention for Highly Visual Thinkers


Many people are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) because they cannot maintain an adequate attention level for language-based tasks. In extreme cases, they have been diagnosed with autism, as the attention to verbal tasks seems nonexistent. Meanwhile, “mavericks” may focus intensely on visual tasks to the point where they do not hear anything that is said to them and become very frustrated when interrupted.

The first step in assessing any potential maverick is to gather information on the subject’s history. What are their behaviors, abilities, difficulties, challenges? What are some notable events or incidents in their history? The best answers come from the parents, who tend to know their children best. Parents naturally monitor a child’s strengths and weakness with a mixture of hope, joy, and fear, so they tend to recall specific incidents that gave them a sense of joy, pride, or concern.

There are five key steps which focus to teach the visual and verbal thinking systems to work together in synergy. As the harmony between the two systems increases, the training teaches the verbal system to work alone.

Step 1 focuses on training the four brain pillars of attention and memory to form a solid foundation for learning:

  • Visual Attention. By addressing three sets of visual skills, the maverick learns to control the way their brain works in the visual medium they know so well. This control can then be transferred to the auditory processing that they struggle with, allowing them to improve in that area.
  • Auditory Attention. Auditory attention begins the process of forming auditory sequential thought, which is the foundation necessary to listen, read, write, and speak. When auditory attention is weak, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to learn in a classroom, hold a conversation, manage time, or organize and sequence tasks.
  • Visual Memory. Visual memory is the ability to process and store images and their associated attributes. The visual associator works optimally when it can complement the auditory sequencer, but for mavericks the associator can become the enemy of the sequencer. The associator can multitask, managing an enormous workload effortlessly, while the sequencer must process information sequentially.
  • Auditory Memory. Auditory memory is the ability to process sounds and phonemes (sound units that make up words). Auditory sequential memory is the driver of all language processing, including listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Your auditory memory creates sound-language connections, processing sounds into information and storing the information as knowledge for later retrieval.

Step 2 involves anchoring the “central executive” to gain self-control. The central executive is what controls mood, behavior, and communication, and allows “channel switching” between the visual and verbal brain. The central executive prioritizes, plans, and forecasts thoughts into words. It anchors the brain for using language to express thoughts.

Step 3 has the focus on developing the input processors for learning the receptive language skills of listening and reading words — this is how human beings move knowledge into the brain. By anchoring the central executive, mavericks are able to use their brain support to control how they manage information. Fluency in thinking and communicating comes from the efficiency in which new ideas move from immediate recall to short-term memory to long-term memory.

Once the maverick’s world of pictures opens up to include a world of words, they begin absorbing, distinguishing, and processing sounds that the rest of us have grown up with all our lives. Listening and reading skills allow more knowledge to move into the brain. With more knowledge comes greater understanding and a greater ability to communicate. Basic vocabulary-building grows to include deeper thoughts and concepts for better interaction with the world around them.

Step 4 focuses on developing output processors, or learning the expressive language skills of speaking and writing. All of our lives we rely on our receptive language to help us express our ideas from thought to word. Our skill with speaking and writing is how we are measured at school and work. We learn through our receptive language, but we are graded by our expressive language. And learning how to efficiently use language is what makes us human beings.

Step 5 focuses on transferring the newly acquired skills and building self-esteem for meeting the ultimate goals: successful interaction at home, school, and work. Generalization occurs when the skill becomes a fully functioning automatic habit that no longer relies on support. Once a maverick is generalized at home, school, and work, they are considered to be mainstreamed.

Cheri L. Florance, Ph.D. is founder and CEO of Brain Engineering Laboratories and author of  “Maverick Mind: A Mother’s Story of Solving the Mystery of her Unreachable, Unteachable, Silent Son.”

This is an update of an article originally published in Brain World Magazine’s Summer 2011 issue.

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