Updated: Feb 24
Some kids are naturally fast; they are always a beat ahead to laugh at jokes, quick to respond or think of a comeback, react fast while playing sports, and get most things done on time. While other students seem to move slow, are always late, take longer to complete their homework, and have difficulty expressing themselves. These students may have slow processing speed; In her book about processing speed, “Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up,” Ellen Braaten defines processing speed as “how long it takes to get stuff done” (Braaten, 4). I like to add it’s how quickly our brain makes sense and or responds to information. Each type of processing can impact one another. There are four main types of processing speeds:
Visual processing: how quickly your eyes intake information; it may impact how quickly you respond to something seen. Visual processing affects how we read directions, find items on a shelf, notice incoming traffic, etc.
Motor speed: fine-motor agility. Such examples are how quickly we can copy notes, pack a backpack, trace a shape, etc.
Verbal processing: how quickly we respond and understand something heard; laugh at a joke, answer a question in class, formulate thoughts, follow directions heard, listen and keep up with the teacher or peers, etc.
Here are a few examples of signs I see when I suspect a student has slow processing speed:
Difficulty with morning routines (always late to get ready)
Trouble expressing themselves (talks in circles, has trouble sequencing a story, has difficulty retrieving a word or information, takes a moment to gather their thoughts)
Feels anxious to take timed tests, i.e., math sprints- which don't help children, but that's another blog post idea….
Seems not to be listening
Inconsistent with academic performance
Significant trouble beginning a task
Difficulty making decisions
As you can imagine, processing information quickly is critical to school success and makes life easier. However, many students and adults don’t have this strength; thus, life and school become more complex, impact family and peer relationships, and take a toll on emotional well-being.
Processing speed can impact the whole family; because the person with slow processing speed is always running behind schedule, can’t remember routines, asks for things repeated, tunes out in the middle of the conversation, and never seems to get to the point of their anecdote. In addition, homework may be a trigger at home because the child is slow to start since they know it will take them a long time to be done, or they compensate by rushing through their work and make “careless” mistakes.
A parent or sibling whose processing speed is not aligned with the child will especially feel frustrated because they can’t relate. For example, a fast-processing parent may assume the child with a slow processing speed is “lazy” or absent-minded and will have difficulty empathizing, understanding, and providing suitable accommodations. Therefore, as Ellen Braaten points out, it’s essential to assess your processing speed to come to an understanding, accept your child for who they are, and advocate for them. Acceptance will help you rally and give your child the support they need.
What are some ways you can accommodate and help your child at home?
Lessen decision-making; build habits and routines
Teach and model how to keep an eye on the clock- this will help with pacing, initiation, and time management
Schedule downtime for them to recharge - our world is fast! In school, children are working hard to keep up with the lesson and conversations
Reflect on how you’re interacting with them; if you tend to speak quickly, modify your rate :)
If you believe your child may have slow processing and you want to learn more, schedule a 1-1 consultation with us to learn strategies and how you can help your child at home, in school, and in life.
Braaten, Ellen, and Brian Willoughby. Bright Kids Who Can't Keep up: Help Your Child Overcome Slow Processing Speed and Succeed in a Fast-Paced World. The Guilford Press, 2014.