Subtle Causes of Slow Processing Speed in Children

Slow processing speed typically results from brain-based biological features. Simply put, it’s genetic. But there are other causes as well.

Brain-based causes are generally inherited features that contribute to the speed at which circuits in the brain work, including specific gene variations, the composition of the neurons in the brain, the spacing of neurons, and the structure of the brain’s white matter. These factors and more contribute to the complexity of how humans process information. While the issue is complicated, neuroscientists are certain that these brain-based variations account for most cases of slow processing speed.

However, there are also many other additional subtle causes of slow processing speed in children. Some of these are medical, including a low thyroid, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and concussion. Difficulty with hearing, vision, or speech can also contribute to slow processing speed.

In addition, lifestyle and hygiene issues such as a lack of adequate sleep and reactions to medication can contribute to problems with slow processing speed. Emotional factors such as depression and the associated slower psychomotor speed can also play a role. High levels of anxiety leading to perfectionism can also slow down processing.

Slow processing speed can also be affected by learning issues. Children who seem to process information slowly may not always learn as efficiently as their peers, requiring  repetition and having information presented slowly in order to learn. There is evidence that children who struggle with automaticity of learning may have abnormalities in the cerebellum of their brains that do not enable them to process information quickly. Others appear to react slowly to tasks and may have a sluggish cognitive tempo, as described by Russell Barkley, Ph.D.

Another cause of slow processing speed is associated with executive-functioning issues. Difficulty with task initiation and time management can play a role in slow processing. Some children with slow processing speed lose track of time and have difficulty with their internal capacity for time monitoring. These children have been described as displaying a type of “time blindness.”

Many of the causes of slow processing speed can be addressed through medical, educational, and psychological interventions. As such, treating a concussion, teaching executive-functioning skills, and providing technology that alerts children to the constraints of time can all be effective methods to improve processing speed. It is important for parents and educators to recognize these subtle causes of slow processing speed and to address them.

Read more about how parents cause slow processing speed in kids. Does your child have slow processing speed? Take the questionnaire. Learn how to explain slow processing speed to children, the correlation between processing speed and ADHD, and strategies for compensating for slow processing speed.


Featured image: Flickr user Stacey Waspe

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