SLOW PROCESSING SPEED (referred to as SPS in this article)

Understanding what slow processing is and the role it may play in your child’s life is essential. Slow processing speed is not an official diagnosis in and of itself, but it can be an associated feature of ADHD or a learning disability. Children with slow processing speed do benefit from effective interventions, so it’s important that it be properly determined and addressed. When it’s not addressed appropriately, other problems may emerge or it can lead to low self-esteem or problems at school.

What Processing Speed Is

“Processing speed is the pace at which you take in information, make sense of it and begin to respond. This information can be visual, such as letters and numbers. It can also be auditory, such as spoken language.”

“Having slow processing speed has nothing to do with how smart kids are—just how fast they can take in and use information. It may take kids who struggle with processing speed a lot longer than other kids to perform tasks, both school-related and in daily life.”

“For example, when a child with slow processing speed sees the letters that make up the word house, she may not immediately know what they say. She has to figure out what strategy to use to understand the meaning of the group of letters in front of her. It’s not that she can’t read. It’s just that a process that’s quick and automatic for other kids her age takes longer and requires more effort for her.” See the full article here: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/information-processing-issues/processing-speed-what-you-need-to-know

What Slow Processing Speed Looks Like

Slow processing speed can affect kids in the classroom, at home and during activities like sports. Kids might have trouble with:

  • Finishing tests in the allotted time
  • Finishing homework in the expected time frame
  • Listening or taking notes when a teacher is speaking
  • Reading and taking notes
  • Solving simple math problems in their head
  • Completing multi-step math problems in the allotted time
  • Doing written projects that require details and complex thoughts
  • Keeping up with conversations

Parents and teachers may notice that a child:

  • Becomes overwhelmed by too much information at once
  • Needs more time to make decisions or give answers
  • Needs to read information more than once for comprehension
  • Misses nuances in conversation
  • Has trouble executing instructions if told to do more than one thing at once

Key Takeaways

  • Slow processing speed can affect the ability to make decisions quickly.
  • Trouble with processing speed can affect a child’s executive functioning skills.
  • Having your child evaluated can reveal problems with processing speed.

Further Understanding

It’s not unusual for gifted students to have slow processing speed. For more information, including how to address slow processing speed, read the following article from the Davidson Institute: https://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10782

As doctor Steven Butnik, Ph.D. put it “When they go unrecognized and their needs go unaddressed, gifted students with a slower pace can feel discouraged and demoralized. However, once they are understood and efforts are made to help reduce the impact of the slower pace, these students’ best abilities can shine. Parents may need to take the lead and arrange for evaluations, educate those involved in their children’s lives, and provide their child with unwavering support and encouragement.”

Veronica Almeida authored a wonderful article on the educational website, We Have Kids, called Understanding Slow Processing Speed in Children. Below are some of her ideas on how to help your children deal with slow processing speed and how you can support them at home. Her full article can be found here: https://wehavekids.com/education/Understanding-Slow-Processing-Speed-in-Children

How to help your child deal with slow processing speed:

If your child has a learning disability or other problems, it important to address the main problem in priority. It is actually a very good idea to have your child assessed by the trained professionals in your child’s school, or a school psychologist in private practice with either an MA or Ph.D. in educational psychology. (Clinical psychologists can also make a diagnosis but may not have the breadth of assessment training or experience in learning disorders as a trained school psychologist. Note: retired teachers, even special education teachers, are not qualified to make a diagnosis.) A professional assessment can avoid misdiagnosis and provide the appropriate routes to address your child’s issues.

However, there are a few things you can do at home to help your child deal with slow processing speed:

  • For each task, break it down into smaller easy-to-grasp steps;
  • Provide your child with clear and short directions to follow;
  • Set out times for completing tasks, using timers, schedules, clocks – this will be challenging but with patience and practice your child can learn to manage their time better.
  • Reduce distractions around your child – if your child is drawing, turn off radios, TV or computers and put away other toys that are not being used by your child.
  • Give gentle reminders of time or of next steps;

Things you should NOT do:

  • Do not take it personally – it is not your fault or their fault;
  • Do not overwhelm your child with too many things to do at once;
  • Do not react emotionally or blame the child;
  • Do not punish the child for taking too long – they don’t do it on purpose.
  • Do not overtly compare the child to other children in the attempt to get them to do things faster – this will hurt their self-confidence instead.
  • Do not assume the child just needs to pay attention and that’s all, thus ignoring the signs.

Whatever you do, give them your support and understanding

Unfortunately slow processing speed can easily go unnoticed in a child, causing her/him anxiety and feeling like they are not as smart as others, or even dumb in nature. Their confidence can be shattered and eventually it shows in school performance and even at home. Many of these children are very bright and would excel in many areas, but often their anxiety and low self-confidence (as consequence of SPS) can get in the way of that. Even if SPS is recognized, parents and teachers can fail the child by getting impatient, increasing the child’s anxiety, which in turn slows them down even more.

It is important to support your child and let them know that having slow processing speed does not, in any way, mean they are not smart. By feeling supported, and with the appropriate techniques, these children can thrive and have a chance at a bright future.

Children with slow processing speed are not dumb! On the contrary, many actually have great critical thinking, are dedicated and are quite smart in many areas. Any decline in performance in any area, usually comes from not addressing their processing speed, or from the frustration that comes with SPS – presented by the child, parents and teachers.

A good support system, one full of understanding and patience, help children feel confident about themselves, making it easier for them to take on any obstacles they encounter. (Veronica Almeida 2017)

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