Slow processing speed issues may cause your child to struggle in school and other areas. Find out how to help.
If your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might have noticed that they take somewhat longer to complete certain tasks than other children. They also might have trouble following directions or they do not appear to listen when you speak to them directly.
Or, perhaps you’ll ask a question or issue some multi-step instructions and receive only a long blank stare in response?
These problems have to do with something called processing speed. Kids with ADHD will frequently also have a slower processing speed. It’s especially prevalent in the inattentive type of ADHD. And, it’s also seen in several learning disorders, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia.
SO WHAT IS PROCESSING SPEED?
Processing speed refers to the amount of time it takes for your brain to process information. This can present challenges in several areas, including processing verbal information, visual information, and completing motor tasks. Kids who have processing speed deficits take longer to take in all kinds of information, make sense of it, and respond. When a child has a processing speed deficit, it takes him longer to do most things — from finishing tests or responding to teachers’ questions to doing daily routines like getting ready for school in the morning.
How Processing Speed Impacts Daily Life and Learning
Processing speed relates to many of our everyday tasks. And, having a slower processing speed can make it harder for your child to:
- Learn how to read, write and count.
- Appropriately respond to problems.
- Make decisions quickly.
- Plan and meet goals in a reasonable time.
- Listen when the teacher is speaking.
- Read and take notes.
- Keep up with classroom discussions.
- Maintain conversation with peers.
- Finish tests and homework assignments on time.
- Get ready for school quickly.
- Complete multi-step assignments and problems.
A child with processing speed problems may:
- Need more time to finish tasks.
- Become overwhelmed when pressured to do things quickly.
- Need more time to make decisions and answer questions.
- Have trouble keeping up with peers.
- Have trouble following conversations.
Facts About Slow Processing Speed
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about processing speed deficits. Here are some facts to clear things up.
Most Kids With Slow Processing Speed Have Normal Intelligence
Sometimes when people hear the phrase “slow processing speed” they associate it with someone being “slow” as in not being very bright. But a child who has slow processing speed does not necessarily have any actual deficits in intelligence. Processing speed has nothing to do with how smart your kid is.
Most children with slow processing speed are very capable and smart. But, they can have a hard time reaching their academic potential because it takes them longer to take in information and respond to it.
Slow Processing Speed Causes Kids With Learning and Attention Issues To Fall Behind
In most areas of life in this country, we place a high value on speed. It’s not just about getting things done. It’s about getting things done fast. And this is true for school. Therefore, kids who do not process information as quickly as their peers fall behind academically. They can’t keep up with the pace of the classroom. Many kids end up falling behind their peers.
Processing Speed Can Vary From Task To Task
Some kids have processing speed deficits across multiple domains. However, this is rare. It is more typical for a child to be slower in certain areas than others. This might explain why your child takes a very long time to finish homework assignments but has no problems getting dressed for school in the morning. Or, your child might be very fast on the basketball court but be the very last one in the class to turn in a multiple-choice test.
Processing Speed Problems Do Not Usually Go Away
Kids who have processing speed deficits do not usually outgrow those issues. They can, however, learn to cope and compensate effectively. Interventions designed to address processing speed deficits can help these kids reach their full potential.
Slow Processing Speed Can Cause Other Issues
Have you ever heard your child say things like “I’m too dumb” or “I’m not fast enough?” These kinds of thoughts are common among kids who have processing speed issues. And these frequently leads to anxiety disorders and self-esteem issues. Being constantly told to hurry up and punished for taking too long to finish tasks can cause a child’s self-esteem to plummet. It can make them fearful and worried when test time rolls around. Kids with processing speed problems also often have social impairments, as well.
Slow processing speed can be emotionally taxing with negative psychological effects and a drain on self-esteem. It can lead to anxiety and other negative emotions that just slow down thought processes even more. And creates a vicious circle.
How Is Slow Processing Speed Identified?
If you believe that your child might have a processing speed deficit, then you should get a comprehensive evaluation done by an educational psychologist or a child clinical psychologist. These tests can usually be requested through your local public school. You can also hire an independent clinical psychologist who does testing to do the evaluation, as well.
Professionals who are trained to identify processing speed deficits will usually give a battery of tests to evaluate executive functioning, memory, language, and cognitive ability. These tests will also help assess whether there are other underlying issues that could be affecting processing speed, like ADHD, anxiety, or learning disabilities.
Timed tests are usually used to measure processing speed deficits. The most common measures of processing speed include:
- Wechsler Intelligence Scale Tests (WPPSI, WISC, WAIS) – These tests all have subtests that measure processing speed.
- Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III) – The WIAT-III also measures processing speed.
- The Woodcock-Johnson IV – This comprehensive test evaluates strengths and weaknesses in many areas, including processing speed.
Find out more about different tests used to diagnose learning differences.
How Can I Help My Child?
Fortunately, several strategies can help kids with slow processing speed better navigate life and school.
Learn About The Problem
The first step in helping a child who has processing speed issues is to understand what they are going through. You can do this by understanding what a processing speed deficit is, and how it impacts your child’s behavior and learning. Once you understand what is and isn’t in your child’s control, you will have a better sense of how to help him or her.
Don’t Pressure Your Child To Hurry Up
Some parents believe that doing things slower equals being lazy. Adults often tell kids who are slow to “speed it up” or “try harder.” The problem is that your child is not taking a long time to finish things on purpose. In fact, he would probably choose to be faster if he could do so. This problem is not only frustrating for you — but it is also frustrating for your child, as well. Pressuring your child to hurry up can cause them to become anxious and freeze, which can hinder their ability to finish the task to an even greater degree.
Recognize that what appears to be slow-poke behavior is not actually intentional. Be patient and provide positive feedback and encouragement for your child’s efforts. This can help them relax and finish tasks quicker.
Provide Extended Time For Tasks
Because it takes longer for kids with processing speed to take in information, it can take them a lot longer than their siblings without these issues to finish homework, clean their room, or get ready in the morning, give them extra time on these tasks. Don’t overwhelm them by setting unrealistic deadlines that they cannot meet. Work with your child to come up with a reasonable amount of time for tasks that work for them and for you.
Help Your Child Become More Aware Of Time
Processing speed issues can make it even harder for kids to accurately assess time. They often struggle with being aware of how much time has passed and how much time they have to complete something. Help them build an awareness of the concept of time.
It can be helpful to set a timer so that they know how much time they have left. Talk about how much time it takes for them to normally clean their room or to finish their homework. This will help them better understand and express to others how much time they need to finish tasks.
Timers and alarms can also be helpful as reminders that it’s time to stop and move on to the next thing. Whether that’s getting out of the shower in the morning. Or, finishing breakfast.
Focus on Improving Process And Efficiency Rather Than Speed
Focus on efficiency rather than speed. Pare projects down to what’s really essential.
Use repetition and practice to make certain tasks or skills automatic. So that they don’t require significant thought, if any.
Also, work with your child to create a log of how long it takes him to complete certain tasks. It can help give him a better frame of reference for making realistic plans.
Be An Advocate
Sometimes slow processing speed can be mistaken for a lack of effort or motivation. And, if you see this happening with relatives or teachers, you should try to correct them. Respectfully educate them about your child’s cognitive profile and what that does and does not mean.
Talk To Your Child
Make time to talk to your child about how this issue is affecting them. Ask how they feel about taking tests, getting called on in school and so forth. If it seems that they are struggling with self-esteem or anxiety, help them come up with ways to cope with the issue.
Try to empower your child by:
- Letting them know that there is a reason why they are struggling with this issue. Many kids take comfort in knowing that there is a reason for what they are experiencing.
- Making sure they understand that processing information slower than their peers does not mean that he or she is any less intelligent. Tell them that being slower is not something to be ashamed about. Everyone does things at a different pace and that is okay.
- Reminding your child of his or her strengths and talents. Explain to your child that how fast that they do something isn’t the only thing that matters. Let them know that there are plenty of other things that are equally important. Things, like being creative or being a fast runner are also important.
- Talking about situations where taking a more thoughtful, slower approach is better. Take pride in being a slow, deep thinker.
- Talk openly with your child about feeling overwhelmed at school. Solicit his thought and input in developing strategies to help make things more manageable.
See A Therapist
Watch out for signs that your child’s processing speed difficulties might be affecting their mental health. Emotional and behavioral signs of mental health issues include chronic sadness, anger, and fear. They also include things like sleep and eating disturbances. If your child is having a hard time functioning because of persistent sadness or low self-esteem, then it’s important to connect with a therapist.
Anxiety and self-esteem can impact learning greatly by themselves. But, when they are combined with low processing speed and other learning or attention issues, it can make things even worse. A therapist can help a child identify ways to manage these problems so that they don’t disrupt learning and everyday life.
Related Content: Anxiety In Kids: What You Absolutely Need To Know
Discuss The Issue With Your Kid’s Teachers
Make sure you also talk with your child’s teachers about the issue. There are lots of classroom strategies that teachers can use to help kids with processing deficits, including:
- Allowing extended time for homework assignments or tests. This can help keep your child from feeling rushed and reduce anxiety.
- Giving your child extra time to respond to questions in class. This can encourage participation and help improve self-esteem.
- Providing clear and concise written instructions. Simple directions make it easier to process information.
- Allowing the use of a computer to take notes. For many kids with processing speed issues, using a computer to take notes can be quicker than writing them down.
- Providing an outline or supplementary notes of class discussions. This can be helpful if your child can’t keep up with classroom discussions.
- Break down bigger assignments into smaller tasks with more frequent deadlines. This can help your child keep up with big projects.
- Allow your child to sit at the front of the class. This can help her pay attention and maybe even hear the teacher better, which should encourage a greater degree of participation.
Kids with impaired processing speed deficits may require more time to complete tasks. You can help your child by helping him develop strategies to maximize efficiency rather than speed, better track and appreciate time, and lean into his strengths.