Why It’s So Important to Talk to Your Child About Slow Processing Speed

If your child takes an excessive amount of time to do their homework at night and get ready for school in the morning, has trouble making quick decisions, and regularly fails to finish school tests and activities within the allotted time, it’s likely that they are struggling with slow processing speed.

Many children with slow processing speed find themselves falling behind their peers, feeling frustrated with school assignments, and struggling to keep up with the fast pace of information and conversations in their world. These kids often feel alienated, and may even encounter criticism from teachers and peers who see them as lazy or defiant. They themselves might not understand that their slow processing speed is a biological difference that is not their fault.

If you believe your child has slow processing speed your first step is to have them evaluated by a neuropsychologist. There are many things that can be done for a child with slow processing speed. But perhaps the most important is for you to have a conversation with them about how dealing with this problem has affected their self-esteem.

Slow processing speed is a phenomena that occurs in kids of all ages, though it may not make itself apparent until a child has been in school for a few years. Early learners have very different developmental profiles and the demands of an elementary school classroom tend to vary across students. Because they are unlikely to have homework, keeping up with schoolwork may not be an issue. Younger children may not have the self-awareness to reflect upon their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, or to realize that others complete tasks more quickly than they do. They may, however, begin to experience frustration when they are unable to “show what they know” due to their inability to produce written work rapidly.

As kids get older, the impact of slow processing speed on their social, emotional, and educational functioning is far more dramatic. They begin to recognize that they are falling behind their friends when they are still working on tests after everyone else has finished or spending two hours doing homework that it takes their friends only half an hour to complete. It is not uncommon for these children to begin to identify themselves as “stupid” or “dumb.” Particularly for older kids who have strong reading, verbal expression, and social science skills, the frustration of written assignments or long-term projects can lead them to resent school.

Unfortunately, a child with undiagnosed slow processing speed may be seen as lazy, apathetic, and uninterested by their teachers. While many kids with slow processing speed do perform far below their academic potential, it isn’t because they don’t care about school. Over the course of time, a student with slow processing speed may have struggled with school for so long that they identify as a poor learner who is less capable than their peers. They become reluctant to take on classroom assignments that they know will take them a long time and generally try to avoid anything that has to do with school. They will “forget” their homework or pretend to have completed a project they did not do. Their avoidance of daunting, time-consuming homework assignments causes further conflicts with parents and teachers, leading many kids with slow processing speed to feel they are a disappointment to the most important adults in their lives.

This is why it’s so important to talk to your child about slow processing speed and the fact that it is biological in nature. Once a child understands that slow processing speed is not their fault and that others in their families may have experienced similar difficulties, they can begin adapting to how their brains works. Slow processing speed is a difference that can sometimes be a deficit, but with help kids can find ways to compensate for it and find activities suited to their processing style.

Helping children recognize their cognitive strengths in the context of slow processing speed is vital, and I recommend consulting a psychologist or educator who is knowledgeable about this particular learning difference. Teachers may need to be educated and informed about slow processing speed in order to accept and accommodate a child’s needs. Provide children with strategies and skills that can make them more efficient processors. While they may not be able to double the speed of their brains, it is possible to develop many skills to compensate for slow processing speed. Recognition and understanding of a slow processing speed will reduce negative self-esteem and improve motivation to keep working hard.

Successful individuals with slow processing speed often share the traits of persistence and motivation. Many people impacted by slow processing speed and other learning issues become highly successful entrepreneurs because they need to learn different ways of doing things, increasing their cognitive flexibility and critical thinking skills. Helping children to emulate individuals who celebrate their differences and make the most of them might be the best gift you can give.

For more on slow processing speed, see the LW4K blog.



Featured image: Flickr user USAG Humphreys

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