Is it Disobedience, Defiance, Or Disability

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Is it Disobedience, Defiance, Or Disability?

Is your child having difficulty following instructions? Does it look like disobedience? Does it look like defiance? Could it be a total lack of ability to put the pieces together to actually follow the instructions? The kind of disability we are talking about here could be temporary! Check it out:

It's Monday morning, breakfast is done, and now it is time to get Andy to school. Mom tells Andy to go upstairs, into his bedroom, put on his socks, and shoes, go into the bathroom, brush his teeth, grab his lunch and backpack, put on his jacket and meet her at the front door. Mom gets busy gathering what is needed to take for a morning of errands after dropping Andy off at school.

10 minutes goes by. 15 minutes goes by. Mom yells up the stairs,
"Andy, it's time to go. Are you ready?"
"Coming." Andy answers.
Down the steps Andy runs.
Mom: "Where's your lunch?
Andy: "In the kitchen."
Mom: "Go grab it."
Mom opens the front door and turns around to see Andy holding his lunch looking at her with a quizzical expression.
Mom: "Where's your backpack?"
Andy "Oh yeah. It's in my room. Be right back."
By now Mom has put all the needed errand items in the car and still no Andy. She plods back to the house, yelling up the steps,
Mom: "Andy, what are you doing? You are going to be late for school!"
Andy: "What did I come upstairs for, Mom?"
Mom (through clenched teeth): "Your backpack."
"That's right. Be right down."
Now Andy is ready to run out the door but he does not have his jacket on and doesn't have his lunch.

Mom really is trying to be patient here but good grief! What is she going to do with this child? Just last night she gave him instructions on cleaning up after dinner.  She needed to go put the finishing touches on his costume for dress rehearsal for the school play. Teamwork, she is thinking.
She says to Andy:
"You do the dinner clean up and I will take care of your costume."
It really was a simple request, she thinks. She asks him to put the leftovers in containers -- that she even provided, put them in the refrigerator, then clear off the dishes, rinse them, put them in the dishwasher, wash off the table, stove, and counters. That's it. After all, this kid is 10 years old. He should be able to handle a few chores that he has done many times before.
After an hour of working on the project, Mom calls Andy in to ask him some questions about the costume. She realizes then that it is getting late and encourages Andy to get up to bed.
Not even giving the kitchen another thought, she continues with the project. After an hour or so, she decides the costume is ready and it is time to call it a night. She heads out to the kitchen to turn off all the lights. What does she find; there is a pile of dishes in the sink (not the dishwasher as instructed). Some of them have been rinsed and some of them have not. The dishwasher hasn't even been opened. The leftovers are in the container but with no lid and still on the table. Nothing has been wiped.
The hard thing here is that Mom knows her son. She feels that he is not trying to be disobedient (well....most of the time). So what is going on? Why can't he follow directions? His teachers are reporting the same thing.

Sound familiar?

Are you asking the same question as the Mom in the story? "What am I going to do with this child?"


There is, obviously, more than one cause for a child to not be able to following directions. We want to share here, though, one cause that is pretty universal and very significant for the maturity of your child as well as his or her ability to follow directions. It is possible that your child's sequential processing ability may be low.

Q: What is sequential processing?
A: Short term memory --  how many pieces of information can your child grasp and run with.

A one year old should be able to process one piece of information. For example if you say one command such as "TOUCH NOSE", a one year old usually can do what you say. A two year old should be able to process two pieces of information. Example: "BLOW KISS AND WAVE BYE BYE." A three year old should be able to process three pieces of information. A four year old should be able to process four pieces of information. Most of society nowadays stops at processing six or seven pieces of information.

Let us tell you about something we like to call, "ANDING”...

Sometimes we tell our child to

1) go upstairs, AND
2) put on your socks, AND
3) put on your shoes, AND
4) put on your jacket, AND
5) come downstairs, AND
6) go outside, AND
7) get into the car.

If your child processes 3 pieces of information they are stuck after putting on shoes. If your child processes 4 pieces of information, they are stuck at putting on the jacket. Instruction #5 said come downstairs. Those 3 and 4 processors are still up in their room. They don’t know what to do next.  Many times they just get distracted by what is in the room.They are “ANDING” … You are ready to go on your outing and your child is upstairs playing in their room. Does this sound familiar? Have compassion – it could be they are processing a lower number of instructions than you have given to them.  Know that sequential processing can be improved.  Each time a child goes up one more level – it is a whole year’s worth of development!!!! We had the beauty of seeing sequential processing jump over and over and with it came amazing new abilities.

There are two types of sequential processing we will address here: auditory and visual.

Let's address auditory processing first.

Auditory sequential processing is tied to maturity and social skills. If you have a two year old who is only processing one piece of information auditorily, they will often act like a one year old. If you have a three year old processing only one piece of information, they will often display one year old behaviors. At the elementary age, we know children who have gotten stuck in their auditory sequential processing and they may be exhibiting problems with immature behavior, frustration, distraction, focus, peer relationships, and following directions to name a few. If you think about it -- toddlers and preschoolers often struggle with those things as well but it is totally appropriate for that age level.

We know teens who process three, four, and five pieces of information. So, they have a really hard time making it in a classroom where the teacher is constantly spouting off more pieces of info than they can handle. They almost never meet the expectations of parents who expect certain things out of someone their chronological age.

When a child is processing auditorily lower than their age or lower than six or seven if they are six or seven years old or older, they can also display other behaviors such as: immaturity, easy frustration, distractibility, focus, and possibly relationships with peers.

The good news is there is a "what to do about it' piece.


You can do exercises to increase your child's sequential processing ability! We did very specific exercises and activities with all four of our children with great success. These exercises are to specifically stimulate your child's brain so that new pathways open, making way for new connections to take place. When the connection takes place - new development -- new ability -- happens! It is all very exciting! You will never regret being a part of helping your child increase sequential processing.

How life changes when sequential processing increases:

Here's one example:
Reading: Billy at nine years was having a hard time putting the pieces together to read. There were certain words he got every single time but then there were simple words that should have been easy to decode that he just could not grasp. He could sound out each of the letters, but when it came to putting them together, it just didn't happen. Billy's auditory sequential processing ability was 3 and his visual sequential processing ability was 4.

Billy was able to get some words every time because he was using his sight reading ability. He memorized those words and they were in his memory bank.

We gave the advice to his mom and dad to work with sight reading, helping him to memorize more words. We gave them a tried and true method that we used with our own children.  We suggested building the sight reading vocabulary so that they could build Billy's confidence in reading. At nine, he was pretty discouraged and began to think that he would never be able to read well.

At the same time they were working on the sight reading, we gave them auditory and visual sequential processing activities to work on with Billy that opened pathways and made new connections in his brain.

Every day, several times a day they did the activities described above and several others.

It wasn't long before Billy's confidence began to increase and his ability to read simple books took off. Over time, he caught up and became a more successful student.

He was also able to follow directions from his teachers, coaches, and his parents more accurately.

Social skills were also enhanced. His parents could see a more mature child emerging every day.

If you would like to work with us to help you have the tools you need to increase your child's auditory and visual sequential processing, we invite you work with us. Start the process with a Get Acquainted Call.  Check it out at:


Tom and Julie


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