Signs & Symptoms

Sequential Reasoning

Is your child unsure how to solve problems step-by-step?

Can’t get those ducks in a row? In other words, put things in sequential order? Some children struggle with following procedures or step-by-step instructions.

They may get frustrated when they are asked to perform a series of steps without a visual checklist or frequent prompts. Your child’s teacher may say that your child ‘seems lost’, ‘never finishes his work’, or ‘doesn’t follow directions’. In math, sometimes the child fails to show his work on the problem.

In writing, her paragraphs may be out of order, such that her writing doesn’t make sense. Your child may get low grades in school for ‘organization’ or ‘conventions’, even though the content of his writing may be okay.

This difficulty is particularly a problem with multi-step directions both at home and at school. The child may do the last thing on the list but forget the first two. When asked ‘Can you go brush your teeth, put your shoes on, and get in the car?’ the child responds by slowly sauntering to the car, one shoe on, no tooth-brush in sight.

Some children with these difficulties have trouble telling stories that make sense. A child with this symptom may read a short story, and then upon a re-telling, tell the ending first, and then a smattering of details. The listener may be left asking, “Wait, what are we talking about?”

What do challenges with Sequential Reasoning look like?

  • Unsure how to put those ducks in a row?
  • Having trouble understanding multi-step instructions?
  • Failing to follow math procedures?
  • Unorganized?
  • Having difficulty deciding what do first, second, and third?
  • Not following the plot-line of a story?
  • Unable to complete projects in sequential order?

Why is Sequential Reasoning happening?

Sequential reasoning is the ability to do things in order. This skill requires the ability to understand the procedures in the first place (comprehension). People who are good at sequential reasoning have the ability to recognize when they are on track in their efforts. For example, a child with good skills here can say, “I am about halfway through my homework. I did my math and reading; I just have some writing left, and I’m done”. In the classroom, individuals with challenges in sequential reasoning will have difficulty following multi-step directions. This difficulty will also impact their ability to understand and retell stories in a logical sequence.

How can I manage Sequential Reasoning at home?

If you suspect your child has poor sequential processing, it would first be important to consult with a School Psychologist or Clinical Psychologist and have an IQ test. An IQ test such as the KABC looks directly at sequential processing. The WISC-V would have a measure of Working Memory (explained above).

Executive Functioning: a full psychological evaluation may be necessary in order to directly assess attention, working memory, planning, and sequential processing.

Visual Sequence Instruction: When reading books aloud or preparing for a book report, draw out the visual sequence of the story. Use a story board approach or a comic strip to show the actions of the characters. For expected behaviors and routines, provide a First, Then board. This board uses dry erase or other changeable medium to show the First step in the task and the next step in the task. When chunking assignments, the teacher could put ‘Do 3 problems on math page’ as First and then write ‘Take a break’ on Then. For children with challenging behaviors, the First Then board can show the expected behavior (First), and then the anticipated reward (Then).

Modeling & Teaching Strategies: If your child indeed has poor sequencing skills, it will be important to learn to use strategies [1-4]. Children who struggle to plan and organize the sequence of steps needed to solve a problem tend to require explicit teaching in strategy use.

Think aloud: One way to teach strategy use is to model strategies as a parent when you are solving problems. This technique is often referred to as a ‘think aloud’.

For example, “Okay, I want to bake a cake. First, I will get my recipe out. Then, I will get all the ingredients, measuring tools, and mixing bowl. Next, I will pre-heat the oven…”. In this way, the child is seeing a problem-solving approach.

Graphic Organizers: Another appropriate intervention is to talk to the teacher about providing your child with visual checklists and graphic organizers. Often, through this type of ‘scaffolding’, children can begin to develop their sequential processing skills.

School Consultation: Finally, if your child’s skills are very low in terms of sequential processing, a consultation with the school may help. A 504 plan or IEP may be necessary. Both the 504 and the IEP can provide accommodations such as ‘extra prompting and process time’ and ‘provide visual checklists and graphic organizers’.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Sequential Reasoning?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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