How to Prepare Kids with Slow Processing Speed for 21st-Century Jobs

Kim’s parents notice that she is not doing very well in her classes this year. While she seems happy and is making friends, Kim is often frustrated by the end of the school day, saying that her teachers are “going too fast.” Her parents are beginning to wonder if they need to talk to Kim’s teachers and whether Kim is showing signs of needing extra help…

Kids with slow processing speed often struggle to keep up with the pace of schoolwork, falling behind their peers. Parents and teachers often observe kids who seem to require more time to complete classwork and homework. However, these children may perform very well as long as it is not a “timed” task. These observations often result in concerns that these kids won’t be able to succeed in the rapidly moving 21st century; that jobs will overwhelm them. 

Parents and educators often ask how to prepare kids with slow processing speed for 21st-century jobs. First, let us reassure you that many 21st century jobs are already well-suited to individuals who work slowly, carefully, methodically, and attend to details. Secondly, it is very important to determine where slow processing speed occurs. Is it most evident in the child’s output?  Do they write slowly or take a long time to formulate their thoughts out loud? Or do they need more time to digest what they have heard or read?

One excellent way to determine the underlying issues with slow processing speed in children is through a neuropsychological evaluation. Processing speed is measured in multiple neuropsychological assessment tools. These include subtests from all of the major intelligence tests. For example on the  WISC-5/WAIS-4, the Coding, Symbol Search, and Cancelation tests provide information about the speed of processing. Other neuropsychological tests such as the Denckla Cancelation Test, REY Osterrieth Complex Figure Test, Speeded Naming, and Word Generation from the NEPSY and Trail Making Tests A and B also provide information about processing speed in children.  In addition, the team at LearningWorks for Kids has developed a screening device, the Processing Speed Questionnaire,  completed by parents to assess the speed of processing across a variety of common settings for children. 

While the names may seem daunting, these tests can give one a better understanding of their reaction time, processing speed,  and response rates. A better understanding of the core issues behind slow processing speed and an examination of the child’s other strengths can help in nudging them towards certain types of careers and educational goals. 

Recognizing existing jobs that are a good match for kids with slow processing speed is the first step. In order to prepare kids with slow processing speed for 21st-century jobs, it may be important to help them see how they are successful in similar types of activities, academic pursuits, or first jobs. For example, the following jobs and vocations all involve helping or nurturing others and not being in a hurry.  For kids with slow processing speed who like working with people, these may be a great combination

  • Animal Care: This can be anything from veterinary medicine to managing or working at an animal shelter. These individuals help care for animals who are lost, stray, sick, or abandoned. This job may be good for individuals that process information slowly because it requires patience and care. 
  • Elderly Care: Working in the elderly care field can be extremely rewarding. These professionals are responsible for working with patients and their families to coordinate care. They also host activities that encourage socialization, relaxation, entertainment, and daily life skills. Skills such as patience, planning, and compassion are helpful for this job where slower processing speed would not be problematic.
  • Human Resources: Human resource occupations tend to orient new employees to a company, its benefits policies, and possibly payroll. Someone who works in human resources needs to be friendly and person-oriented. This occupation may be suited for those with slower processing speed because it is often not time-dependent. They must be able to take time to listen to people and be patient throughout their interactions.
  • Preschool or Special Education Teacher: Preschool teachers are responsible for educating young children through play and interactive activities. This career may attract individuals with slow processing speed because it requires patience, connecting with kids, and repetition to teach students new skills. Special education teachers often work with kids who have learning, attention, and processing speed difficulties. Empathy and understanding are required to be successful in school when faced with learning disabilities. These teachers may work exclusively with students with disabilities to provide accommodations and coaching within the classroom setting without the demands of curriculum or lesson development. 
  • Therapist/Counselor: A therapist is an individual that is professionally trained to help people cope with their problems. This career may suit an individual with a slow processing speed for a few reasons. It requires one to patiently listen to individuals as they analyze and create interventions to help people cope with their goals.

If you think your child may be struggling with slow processing speed, talk with their pediatrician and teachers to see if any of the tests mentioned above may prove beneficial. 

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