Slow Processing Speed
Processing speed is the amount of time it takes for someone to take in information or an emotional cue, process it, and then respond. Processing can be visual (looking at or reading information) or verbal (verbal directions). Some people can process fairly quickly while other people take much longer. Many of the students we work with at Wright Academics have slow processing speed. Slow processing can cause a lot of frustration on the part of the person experiencing it and the person interacting with them. This adds an additional emotional layer to the learning challenges that accompany students with slow processing speed.
What It Looks Like
A common misconception about people with slow processing speed is they are not smart. This couldn’t be farther from the truth; individuals with slow processing speed are often extremely intelligent. Those with slow processing speed fully understand what’s being said or shown, it just takes them longer to respond. Often these individuals take a long time to complete their work. Additionally, they struggle to keep track of time. Students with slow processing speed often barely get to class on time. They are late getting out of the door. They are the last athlete to get on their gear. These students constantly feel like they are behind the 8-ball, and they often have other learning differences like ADHD. Because of this, students with slow processing speed take much longer to complete homework assignments or classwork. This can be thoroughly frustrating for parents, teachers, coaches, and students alike, but just because these students are slow to process does NOT mean they lack ability.
Sometimes slow processing speed can add or lead to anxiety or other emotional issues. Why? Because those who struggle with it often have trouble socially. We live in a fast-paced social world where there’s an expectation of expediency. Often when students with slow processing speed are put on the spot in class, they cannot think of an answer quickly enough to appease their teacher or classmates.
Just the other day, I was talking to a high school student with slow processing speed. She explained how it takes her so much longer to learn things in school compared to her peers. Because of this, she’s reluctant to raise her hand in fear she will give a wrong answer. She feels as if her classes move way too fast. The amount of work she is assigned, accompanied by her slow processing speed, feels overwhelming.
How It Impacts Other Supports
Supporting a student with slow processing can be frustrating, too. Parents, teachers, and coaches want students to follow directions promptly, answer them quickly, or be ready for practice in a timely manner. This is why it is crucial that educators understand how a student with slow processing speed’s brain works. Slow processing speed impacts working memory and is diagnosed by a psychologist who obtains a cognitive profile of the individual. Students with slow processing speed are intelligent, they just require different supports than those with average processing speed.
How to Cope
Certain learning differences that often accompany slow processing speed, like ADHD, can be treated with medication in some cases. As of now, however, there is no medication for slow processing speed. Since there is no medication slow processing speed, treatment introduces coping strategies to help students learn how to manage their slow processing speed on a daily basis. Potential strategies include extended time for tests, increased time management support, utilization of technology, and introduction of efficient notetaking and study skills.
The key for students with slow processing speed? Work smarter, not harder. We help these students find shortcuts that allow them to get the gist of information while not spending forever working on one project. We introduce them to technology that may be able to help them such as audiobooks (to assist with reading) or dictation apps that make writing more efficient.
We also show students with slow processing speed that cramming doesn’t work. Because slow processing speed impacts a student’s working memory, they need to chunk their learning into manageable increments. This approach breaks down information in a way that gives students with slow processing speed enough time to learn. We model how to do that throughout our sessions with students by giving them scheduled “brain breaks” and acting as the liaison with their school to see if they could benefit from specific accommodations. These accommodations could include reducing a student’s workload or only requiring a student to work on a given project for a specified amount of time.
Another way we help students with slow processing speed is by limiting their visual field. Often when these students are presented with a written assignment, they physically recoil. To combat this feeling, we only show them small chunks of a project at a time. This helps to decrease their overwhelm.
A crucial area where we assist students with slow processing is note taking. Note taking requires processing many different stimuli on numerous levels. The teacher could be talking while showing a PowerPoint containing both graphs and words. In this scenario, the student is processing verbal information as well as written and visual information. This makes keeping up with their class and taking notes extremely difficult for those with slow processing speed. We help students learn how to take notes in an efficient, meaningful manner while showing them time saving hacks along the way.
Students with slow processing speed are very bright students who are just trying to keep up in a fast-paced world. Slow processing speed is not intentional, and those who struggle with it often have incredible intelligence but take a long time to show what they know. If a student has slow processing speed, they often have negative feelings toward themselves and others. This is an important piece to think about as we navigate how to best support those who struggle with this learning difference. Remember: a little compassion goes a long way, and slow processing is not a choice.
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About Evelyn Wright
Evelyn Wright is the Director of Wright Academics, a tutoring business created to target kids’ specific needs. Her passion is helping students and families succeed so that they achieve their maximum potential in and out of the classroom.
With over 25 years of experience working with children and their families in public and private schools, as well as in private practice, Evelyn’s focus is understanding the individual’s learning profile, guiding families of children with learning differences and matching students to the tutor or coach that best fits the student. She believes in not only matching educational needs to the right tutor’s skills, but matching a student to the tutor with the right personality.