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:

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:

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:

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)

Interventions for Gifted Teens Who Are Underachieving

The underachievement of gifted students is a perplexing phenomenon. Too often, for no apparent reason, students who show great academic promise fail to perform at a level commensurate with their previously documented abilities, frustrating both parents and teachers (Whitmore, 1986). The process of defining underachievement, identifying underachieving gifted students, and explaining the reasons for this underachievement continues to stir controversy among practitioners, researchers, and clinicians. Practitioners who responded to a National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented needs assessment identified underachievement as a major research problem (Renzulli, Reid, & Gubbins, 1992). Despite this interest, the underachievement of gifted students remains an enigma.

Academic underachievement has been a persistent area of concern for educators, parents, and students for at least the past 35 years. The gifted underachiever has been described as “one of the greatest social wastes of our culture” (Gowan, 1955, p. 247). Beyond the social cost, however, there are personal setbacks as well — opportunities for advanced educational experiences and personal development are thwarted by academic underachievement. Today, there is no problem more perplexing or frustrating than the situation in which a bright child cannot or will not perform at an academic level commensurate with his or her intellectual ability.

Definitions of gifted underachievement as a discrepancy between potential and performance are by far the most common. However, if one accepts the general premise that underachievement involves a discrepancy between ability and achievement; a need exists to operationally define these key concepts.

A common method of defining ability involves the use of an IQ test, such as the Wechsler Scales. However, the criteria needed to identify giftedness vary from state to state and from district to district. In some states, students must achieve an IQ score at or above a certain cut-off in order to acquire the gifted label. Many states, including Colorado, mandate the use of multiple criteria to determine giftedness. Because different school systems use different criteria to label a student gifted, the populations of students who are identified as gifted vary; and, in some cases, they are not comparable. This phenomenon is sometimes called “geographic giftedness” (Borland, 1989).

Read the full article here

Putting the Research to Use
Parents and teachers working with students to reverse the underachievement pattern may wish to consider a number of factors. Results from this study (Read the full article here) indicate that it is important to identify the underachiever’s areas of strength and talent. Personal interests can motivate the student to learn and provide an avenue for learning various skills related to school success. Providing appropriately challenging curriculum during the period of underachievement also appears to be important. School personnel should consider gifted underachievers candidates for gifted education services and/or advanced classes. The underachievers in this study also seemed to respond well to parents and teachers who had high expectations, provided calm and consistent guidance, and maintained a positive, objective regard for the student. The study’s findings indicate that academic underachievement can be reversed as a result of modifications on the part of both the student and the school.

If you’re interested in reading a book about emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development from early adolescence through teen years we recommend Your Adolescent by David Pruitt M.D., AACAP

About the Book

Parents, teachers, and mental health workers will find the answers to these- and many other-questions in this forthright yet compassionate guide to helping your adolescent through the tumultuous teen years. From peer pressure and self-esteem to experimentation with sex, alcohol, and drugs, this invaluable resource covers a wide range of practical issues. Here as well is information on more serious obstacles to a teen’s development that may require professional intervention, such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and disruptive behavioral disorders. As surely as every child will become a teen, every person that must relate to a teen will find this book a reliable, indispensable guide to the ups and downs of adolescence.

Another good resource for parents and educators in combating underachievement is the work of Dr. Sylvia Rimm. Her articles and books on the subject can be found at this link:


Parents Requesting an Initial Evaluation for Special Education

Who is Eligible for Special Education Services?

To be eligible for special education, a child must have a disability and must need special education services and related services. If a child has a disability but does not need special education services, the child is not eligible for special education under IDEA but may be eligible for protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

As a parent, guardian or advocate, you have a legal right to request that your public school evaluate your child for special education. Federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as amended in 2004 (IDEA), gives you that legal right. Parents may request an evaluation in writing, with copies to the principal and the school district’s director or coordinator of special education.

ASK Resource Center provides an excellent resource for parents requesting an initial evaluation including a sample letter to the school district.

Click here to access the PDF!

At Turning Point Assessments, we are often asked by parents to provide an independent assessment in addition to the one done at the school. We always inform parents of their rights according to IDEA and how our services differ from those provided in the school setting. When an IEP assessment is in progress, we coordinate with the school to supplement their testing. Our assessments can dig deeper into other co-occurring conditions, explore the cognitive or neurodevelopmental underpinnings of the problem, and provide a diagnosis that can lead to services not be covered by IDEA. Some parents seek out our services instead of the school IEP assessment. In these cases, we provide the testing and assessment required by IDEA and also do a “differential” assessment to rule out other possible causes or co-occurring conditions. Parents are able to take our assessment back to the school to help determine what supports are possible as a result.