Updated: Oct 14, 2022
We take in so much information, all the time.
Our brains may be supercomputers—but they have to be to live in a world where data, signals, and input are flying at us all day, every day.
It’s like living on the Autobahn—and constantly having to travel at 120 mph to keep up with the flow of traffic.
Thankfully, our brains are pretty skilled at doing a ton of work below the surface and behind the scenes—so we barely notice how hard they work to keep us up to speed.
For some people, though, keeping pace with the flow of daily information is more of a challenge.
That’s the case for children with slow processing speed.
But what does it mean to be a slow processor? How does it show up in children? And is there anything you can do to help your child if they struggle with this issue?
We created this article to answer all these questions for you—and more! If you’re concerned your child may be dealing with slow processing—you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s dive right in, and explore all the facets of this issue, as well as what can be done to help if your family faces this learning challenge.
What is slow processing speed?
Ever had the experience of sitting in front of a computer or tablet, waiting for it to load? Nowadays, a sluggish internet connection can feel like it takes a huge bite out of our daily productivity.
Your brain is a lot like a computer, in that it needs to process the info it receives in order to to channel it into output.
Processing speed is the time it takes to get something done.
When it comes to our brains, processing speed is the time needed for us to take in, understand, and respond to the information we receive from the world around us.
Each day, your brain takes in information from lots of sources. There’s verbal information, written information, and all the info we take in with our senses—like sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and what we feel through our sense of touch.
Now, just as variety’s the spice of life—there’s a wide range of processing speeds among people.
Some individuals require extra time to effectively process what they hear, see, and learn.
This is known as slow processing speed.
In and of itself, slow processing speed isn’t classified as a learning disability—in fact, it isn’t related to intelligence at all, and many highly intelligent people experience slow processing.
But, you can probably imagine how slow processing can cause issues for students navigating the educational system, right?
Coping with slow processing can cause frustration for students, parents, and educators.
Students who deal with it may feel pressure to perform, and can feel defeated, discouraged, or depressed as a result of trying to conform to the temporal expectations placed upon them.
In fact, many kids with slow processing speed also struggle with anxiety.
It’s not known for certain whether slow processing speed directly leads to feelings of anxiety, but it’s not a big stretch to see how being a student with slow processing could cause feelings of anxiety to occur.
While the exact cause of slow processing speed is unknown, experts believe it likely results from differences in the brain.
While slow processing speed is not a learning disability, in and of itself, research shows it does have a high correlation with cases of ADHD. Some believe these issues co-occur in more than 60% of ADHD cases.
(Want to learn more about ADHD? Check out our recent article for a deep dive into this topic. And follow it up with our piece on executive function skills for even more valuable info!)
Slow processing speed can also co-occur in children with dyslexia.
Now that you know more about how slow processing occurs and what it means, let’s explore how it shows up in the children who experience it.
How does slow processing speed show up in children?
How can you know if your child is dealing with slow processing speed?
As a parent, you’re an expert on your child. Still, parents sometimes need assistance recognizing the signs and symptoms of learning issues in their children.
Because you’re so familiar with your child, it can sometimes be difficult for you to “see the forest for the trees,” to borrow an expression. Viewing our own children objectively is almost impossible when you’re their loving, concerned parent.
There are several recognizable symptoms of slow processing speed in children. Maybe you’ve seen some of them in your own child?
Common signs and symptoms of slow processing speed in children include—
Standing in silence for a period before responding to someone who’s spoken to them
Taking a long time to complete homework and other school tasks
Taking a long time to explain something
May complain that their “brain is tired”
Emotional outbursts may occur around completing school work or chores
May require additional time to make choices and provide answers
May feel overwhelmed by too much information at one time
Difficulty following directions and establishing routines
Missing social cues and the nuances of communication
Need to re-read information several time to understand
May take excessive time with daily activities like dressing
It’s easy to see how these difficulties can cause stress and frustration in the lives of both you and your child.
So what’s a concerned parent to do if you believe your child is struggling with slow processing?
Thankfully, the more we know about slow processing speed, the more we’re able to help support the children who experience it.
Let’s examine how slow processing speed in children is identified and addressed, as well as some tips to help you navigate this issue with your child.
How is slow processing speed in children diagnosed and treated?
If your child deals with slow processing, you may be at a loss with where to get them the support they need and how to help them address and overcome this issue.
You certainly don’t want your child to develop negative feelings toward school and learning, or for their issues with processing to have a lasting impact on their self esteem and self confidence.
If you suspect your child may be a slow processor—it’s ok to reach out for help!
You can always start by talking with your child’s teacher or healthcare provider, to share your concerns and hear their professional insight into the issues you’ve noticed. If necessary, they can make referrals and get the ball rolling to investigate the issues your child is experiencing.
The Loop team has several highly qualified therapists who are skilled at assessing children with slow processing speed.
If your child may benefit from a thorough evaluation of their learning skills, we’ll begin by communicating directly with you, to listen to your concerns and wishes.
If an evaluation is appropriate and agreed upon, we’ll work with your child’s teacher to assess them right during the school day. We’ll review our results and schedule a time to communicate our findings to you and any relevant educational professionals.
From here, we’ll use the results of our assessment, synthesized with information gathered from you and your child’s teacher, to create an individualized treatment plan, designed to suit your child’s needs.
Our treatment plans are customized for each unique child and family we’re honored to work with. We’ll fold in your child's preferences so they stay motivated and enjoy their time with us.
We believe there’s always more than one way to target a skill, and creating individualized therapy plans that are fun and engaging for kids is what we love to do!
Some common strategies that can be helpful in addressing slow processing speed in children include—
Providing many opportunities for your child to practice the skills we’re targeting—because practice makes perfect!
Building in extra time for your child to complete daily tasks and routines, to avoid frustration.
Help your child learn shortcuts—by showing them how to prioritize and simplify tasks
Focus on planning and organization skills
We’ll also work closely with your child’s teacher, to create and implement customized accommodations for them in the school setting, which may include—
The use of multi-modal aids to help them during the school day—including visual aids, written aids, and verbal cues
Allowing extra time and support to understand and complete assignments
Checking in with your child during the school day, or allowing them a work buddy
Offering streamlined and simplified assignments
Giving outlines and rubrics with clear expectations
Using assistive technology, like text-to-speech software
Reducing distractions in the classroom
Use nonverbal communication to check in and promote focus
No matter what personalized supports and assistance your child needs to help them thrive—The Loop is your trusted partner.
Our highly skilled team includes speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, learning specialists, and educational advocates—all poised to help your child overcome any educational obstacles they may face.
We help families navigate the educational system with ease, and also create the necessary supports—both in school and at home—to help children succeed.
You’ve taken the vital first step in getting your child the extra support they need—let us help you find the best path forward for your family, and help you all along the way!
If you’re interested in learning more, or want to connect to see if our services are the right fit for your family—reach out! You can easily catch up with us on your preferred social media platforms @theLoopSLL, shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete the contact form on our website and we’ll get back to you asap.
The Loop is proud to offer top-quality speech, language and occupational therapy services to Chicago-area families in need. We’re also your go-to source for the very best in learning remediation, executive function coaching, and educational consultancy and advocacy services.