What is Slow Processing Speed?
She intently listened.
Her eyes, fixed on me while scrunching her brow.
It was like she was forcing her brain to be completely focused on the lecture.
As hard as she tried, her brain couldn’t remember the words long enough so she could write her notes.
She tried so hard to keep up, that sometimes her scribbling was illegible.
But there was something about her that intrigued me.
She never gave up.
At the end of class she slipped her work into a folder and then into her backpack.
We had a secret agreement that she could finish her work at home.
Her assignments were always well done.
She had some of the top scores in the class when given unlimited time to complete the assignments.
Her work ethics were amazing.
She asked for extra time to complete projects.
It wasn’t that she was lazy, she needed the time to take in information.
Once she had time to think about it, she could compare it with what she already knew about the topic. Then she could produce a result.
She was slow at processing information.
Slow processing speed means that a child cannot keep up with the pace of classroom learning.
It takes an excessive amount of time to complete their homework. Completing class work by the end of class is impossible.
Tests with time restraints become unfinished.
Slow processing speed affects a child’s ability to handle verbal information.
Reading, writing, decision-making and following directions are difficult to complete.
Many children with slow processing speed are very smart. Yet they aren’t reaching their academic potential.
What Slow Processing Speed is NOT!
One might argue that the lack of executive functioning skills is the problem.
Slow processing speed isn’t a problem with executive function. It causes problems with executive function.
To better understand, let’s talk about executive function skills.
Executive Function Skills are a set of three processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources to achieve a goal.
Flexible thinking, which lets children shift gears and change how they’re thinking. It allows for analyzing and understanding different points of view.
Working memory, the ability to hold on to new information and keep it at-the-ready so it can be used.
Self-control, allows children to make decisions based on the information without being emotionally involved. Self-control allows them to stay focused until the task is completed.
Processing Speed determines how fast one can use their executive functioning skills.
The executive skills work fine.
They just can’t be used as quickly as needed.
Here’s a practical example. Children need to use executive skills to immediately respond with thought-filled solutions.
But kids with slow processing speed often respond without thinking about the problem.
They end up responding in a way that’s impulsive and not well-thought out.
They don’t lack the skills to think through a problem to find a good solution. They lack the speed to use those problem-solving skills effectively.
How Do I Know If My Child Has Slow Processing Speed?
Look for these symptoms:
Not consistent in the time it takes to complete a task
Difficulty judging one’s capacity to complete something in a timely fashion.
Frequent arguments about homework.
Difficulty transitioning to the next task.
Difficulty being on time.
Failure to complete or turn in schoolwork and homework assignments.
Difficulty taking notes or copying down information quickly.
What Causes Slow Processing Speed?
Biology of the brain is the short answer.
Studies in the field of Neuroscience suggest many factors contribute to slow processing speed.
These factors are found in the frontal lobe of the brain.
The frontal lobe houses many executive functioning skills, as well.
The following factors have been studied as playing a part in slow processing speed:
Decrease volume in the frontal lobe - As neurons die in the frontal and temporal regions, these lobes atrophy, or shrink. It is believed to be the most common cause of dementia in people younger than age 60.
Composition of neurons - Myelin insulates and improves the signals sent between neurons. Processing speed slows down when lower amounts of myelin is present.
Neurotransmitters - Acetylcholine plays a role in increasing responsiveness to sensory information. This may be a factor in slow reaction times and delay in information processing.
Size of the space between neurons - The white matter between neurons determines processing speed. The larger the space, the slower it takes for processing information.
What Effect Does Slow Processing Speed Have on Social Skills?
He really wanted to be on the basketball team at school.
He had been practicing his shots. He was able to talk his way through the set up for the shot.
He knew how to shoot the ball so it would rebound off the backboard straight into the basket with great force.
The day came for team tryouts.
He anxiously walked into the gym, hands sweaty, and totally aware of his breathing.
He found where the team members were sitting and quickly stepped on to the bleachers to sit down.
He rubbed his sweaty palms along his blue shorts.
His focus was on the coach.
He intently listened to the instructions. “When your name is called, step forward”, the coach said in a loud voice.
The coach called all the players one by one dividing them into 2 teams.
He gave instructions on how each would take a turn at shooting the ball through the basket.
The team was then to run certain drills. He didn’t quite catch what the drills were since the coach was speaking rapidly.
He had watched enough games on TV and figured he knew what to do.
He ran up and down the court keeping his eyes on the ball.
Suddenly the ball came to him out of nowhere. He had no idea what to do. He just threw the ball without thinking.
He ran under the basket to keep safe from being bumped by the other players.
He just wanted to get out of there.
The whistle blew.
The coach asked him what position he was playing and why was he standing under the basket.
The game was moving too quickly for him to understand which direction to run.
He became confused and couldn’t give an answer to the coach.
The coach told him to sit in the bleachers.
He could feel the eyes of the other boys looking at him.
He wanted to disappear.
He picked up his things and silently walked out of the gym.
Slow processing speed can have a major social and emotional impact on a child.
Parents should be aware of the effects of slow processing speed on the social-emotional state of their child.
Here are a few signs you can watch for:
Difficulty maintaining friends
Suffers from low self-esteem
Struggles to keep up with the fast pace of conversation (or the game in this example)
Feelings of overwhelm juggling more than one friendship
Avoids team sports
The results of each of these signs could lead to fewer opportunities to connect with their peers.
They can become unsure of themselves in social relationships, not being able to “read” social cues.
There may be a reluctance to join in with the group because they are unsure of what is happening with their peers.
They can feel lost.
3 Strategies You Can Do To Improve Social and Emotional Well-Being In Your Child With Slow Processing Speed
Learn a new skill with your child - fishing, golf, archery
Exercise with your child - endorphins give a sense of release from the symptoms of anxiety and depression
Teach the art of relaxation - simple breathing techniques, EFT tapping, or listening to quiet music
When your child feels comfortable doing one of these new activities, encourage your child to share one of these new skills with one friend.
You may think your child is being lazy but in reality they are frustrated.
Slow processing speed can take a toll on their self-esteem.
Children with slow processing speed struggle with emotional guilt of disappointing their family and themselves.
They are socially awkward in that they are not able to keep up with the fast pace of conversation between friends.
Children with slow processing speed work very hard, want to please, but feel alone in that they can not keep up the pace.
They burn themselves out, like a car revving its engine too high for too long.
Slow processing speed can be determined by the structure of the brain. It can be a genetic trait, and often hereditary.
Educators must accept, accommodate, and advocate for these children.
Psychologists and educators are beginning to recognize the impact slow processing speed has on children's performance in school and the impact on their self-esteem when social situations arise.
I invite you to connect with us in our free Facebook Community Raising Kids Who Love To Read. This is a community of Christian moms searching for effective reading strategies to turn their struggling readers into confident readers. Come join in our discussions.
Reading Strategy Coach
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