What’s the big deal about CFU? Ask Brian.

“Brian can’t tell the difference between a 5 and a 3 and he sure can’t begin to read! Good luck with that one!” That was my first introduction to a very “special” student as I began my career in education. Brian had a problem with CFU.

CFU is just one of six intellectual abilities that you have to have to be ready to read. In this post we’ll look at this ability more in depth and discover why this ability is so critical to a student’s reading readiness.

CFU stands for Cognition of Figural Units. It is the ability to look at a picture or representation of an object that has been partially erased and to be able to tell what that object is. In other words, CFU is the ability of your brain to fill in the blanks and make sense of what seems at first to be only random marks on the page.

This skill, when applied to letters or symbols, makes up the gateway to reading.

Remember picture finding in your “Highlights for Children” magazines? It wasn’t just a fun activity, or a not so fun activity if you were unsuccessful. There was a reason for it!


I now know that each of Brian’s eyes were seeing something different. That “dreamy” look he had when I looked at him now makes sense. How do you tell the difference in a 5 and a 3 when one eye places the right angle at one spot on the page and the other eye places it elsewhere?

And, maybe it doesn’t place it in the same place the next time I look at it. How do you make sense of that, much less use that figure to mean something?

Accomplished readers can, at a glance, realize the “picture” that is the word and transform that picture/word into meaning almost instantaneously, thus accomplishing comprehension. If a student is unable to do this, the amount of work that it takes to identify a word creates a problem.

By the time he or she has solved the puzzle of the word, the meaning of the other words around it has become lost and comprehension and meaning has been lost.

CFU is also the ability to scan horizontally with your eyes. In order for this to happen, the eyes must be able to move back and forth from point to point in tandem, landing at the same point at the same time.

If the eyes do not move smoothly together, they do not take in the same message at the same time. What they see are random lines on a page and they are unable to construct a meaningful “picture” of two separate visual messages coming at the same time.

If it’s this difficult, no wonder these students lose attention, choose not to read, or choose to disrupt so that no one will discover that they can’t figure out what comes so naturally to others.

However, having underdeveloped CFU doesn’t mean a person can’t read words in isolation. A person can be able to decode single words and understand the sounds of vowel combinations and consonant blends in isolation and still fail at reading.

They know HOW to read, but reading passages that require the stamina to sweep back and forth in smooth motion so that the sequences of information can develop and make sense is lost. Comprehension goes out the window.

This person doesn’t have a problem LEARNING to read, they have a problem WITH THE PHYSICAL ACT of reading.

At Synap2it Learning Center I’ve heard the following phrase SO MANY times, “_(insert student name here)_____is so smart! I can’t understand why he/she is unable to do this! They are such a puzzle!”

At Synap2it! Learning Development Center we are able to identify the problem through a series of cognitive, sensory and visual assessments and screenings. The best news is, we just don’t hang a label on it, we just remedy it.

For more information, or to schedule an assessment, contact us!

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Renee Anderson

The founder & director of EducationPathways and Synap2it! Learning Center, Renee Anderson is a veteran educator whose career spans over 25 years in both public and private schools. During this time, she has worked in regular classroom settings, special education and in intervention. She became an SOI Structure of Intellect Advanced Trainer in 1996, achieved the SOI Associate designation in 2001 and now acts as a National Trainer and Senior Program Consultant for SOI Systems, Inc. Learn more

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