Brain injury - Reasoning and abstract thinking

  • Reasoning and abstract thinking skills help us to understand abstract concepts and generalise our skills to different situations. Reasoning and abstract thinking can be difficult for children who have experienced a brain injury.

    What are reasoning and abstract thinking skills?

    Reasoning and abstract thinking belong to a collection of cognitive (thinking) skills that are often referred to as 'executive functions' or 'higher level thinking skills'. They allow us to understand concepts that are abstract or not immediately obvious, and to generalise knowledge and skills to different situations.

    What do problems with reasoning and abstract thinking look like?

    The following list outlines some of the common difficulties that may be seen on an everyday basis that could indicate problems in this area:

    • not understanding new concepts, especially theoretical ideas
    • not 'getting' jokes and other comments involving figural speech because the words heard are taken too literally
    • not understanding material where information is not explicit and inferences are required
    • not following reasoning provided during lessons or discussions
    • not generalising solutions, strategies and ideas to new situations when there is difficulty seeing the relationship

    What strategies might help?

    • Avoid the use of abstract or figural language where possible. For example, try not to use sarcasm or expressions that have double meanings.
    • Wherever possible provide clear, everyday examples to explain new and difficult concepts.
    • Use simple and direct language.
    • Provide learning material in the most simplified and obvious form possible, avoiding the need for inference.
    • Help the child to master a specific task, then present other similar tasks or situations and encourage them to apply what they have learned. This may help the child understand that solutions and strategies can sometimes be generalised.

    Key points to remember

    • Reasoning and abstract thinking skills may be affected following a brain injury.
    • These skills allow us to understand complex ideas that are not immediately obvious and help us generalise our skills to different situations.
    • Practicing new skills or knowledge across a variety of situations can help to generalise new learning.

    For more information

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Paediatric Rehabilitation Service based on information from the Brain Injury Service at Westmead Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed September 2020.

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