Are kids with slow processing speed unmotivated to get things done? Could they really move quicker if they only wanted to? What causes slow processing speed? Is there a cure?
The science of slow processing speed is complicated. Motivation and interest can certainly have some impact on processing speed, but at the root of the disorder is biology.
While the cause of slow processing speed can vary, recent discoveries in neuroscience suggest that many brain-based factors contribute to slow processing of information.
The parts of the brain that are implicated in slow processing speed include the frontal lobe, the place in the brain where many executive functioning skills are focused. There is some evidence that decreased volume in the frontal lobe is related to speed of processing.
The composition of the neurons in the brain has also been associated with slow processing speed. There is evidence that a fatty substance called myelin, which insulates and improve the efficiency of the signals sent between neurons, may have an impact on processing speed. This theory suggests that lower amounts of myelin surrounding one’s neurons may slow down processing speed.
Neurotransmitters in the brain have also been associated with processing speed. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that aid communication between one neuron and the next. There is evidence that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine plays a role in increasing responsiveness to sensory information and may be a factor in slow reaction times and delays in information processing.
The size of the space between neurons, called the synaptic spaces, is also suspected to be a cause of slow processing speed. Think about the time it takes to cross a wide street as opposed to a narrow one; a larger space between neurons means that it takes more time for neurotransmitters to go from one place to another, resulting in slower processing speed.
Modern neuroimaging research suggests that processing speed is related to the structural integrity of the white matter associative tracks — the “highways” of the brain involved in transmission of information along neural pathways.
For those of us who aren’t neuroscientists, it’s probably most important to recognize the biological factors at the root of slow processing speed. Rather than blaming a child for moving slowly, we should understand that they are struggling to process information efficiently. This doesn’t mean that we can’t help them to get a little bit faster and to be more focused. The neuroscience of slow processing speed suggests that we look for alternative ways for them to reach their potential and to reduce the frustration they experience due to slow processing speed.
For more about slow processing speed, see these articles:
What Is Slow Processing Speed in Children?
Processing Speed and Executive Functions
Parenting a Child With Slow Processing Speed
5 Ways to Improve Slow Processing Speed in Children
Is It Possible to Improve Slow Processing Speed in Children?
Can Video Games Improve Processing Speed?
Targeted Strategies That Help Children With Slow Processing Speed
Games and Activities That Improve Slow Processing Speed
Using Videos to Explain Slow Processing Speed to Kids
Best Web Resources for a Child With Slow Processing Speed
Featured image: Flickr user Ian D. Keating