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What You Should Know About Slow Processing Speed

What you should know about slow processing speed

Imagine a life where you read numbers and words just as you see them, but you are consistently told you are wrong.  Or you are given directions, but somehow lose track of the task you were asked to complete, and everyone around you seems to have little patience for your way of doing things. These reactions to your perception of the environment leave you constantly feeling frustrated, anxious and overwhelmed.

Now imagine that you are only 6 years old and experiencing the above scenarios with little understanding of how to explain what is happening. As parents, teachers and mentors, we are essential in helping calm their confusion by simply observing and reporting struggles that disguise themselves as learning difficulties.  Luckily, learning difficulties often stem from three very common factors: Visual Development Delays, Anxiety, and Slow Processing Speed.

Vision Delays, Slow Processing Speed and Anxiety

Does your child take two hours to do math or reading homework when others seem to take minutes?  Does he do poorly on tests even though he knows the the material? Does he often “have a stomach ache” when trying to do work at school?  Does he find it hard to follow multi-step directions where there isn’t a lot of time to get the task done?  There are many possible reasons for these struggles, but visual delays or slow processing speed may be the root cause.

What is Processing Speed?:

  • Processing speed is the pace at which you take in information, process it and form a response. This information can be visual, in the form of letters, numbers or actions. It can also be auditory, such as spoken language or familiar sounds.
  • Having slow processing speed can be measured in how fast a child can take in and use information. It has nothing to do with how smart the child may be.  It may take kids who struggle with processing speed a lot longer than other kids to perform tasks, both school-related and in daily life.
  • If you give multiple-step directions a child with slow processing speed may not follow all of them, often loosing track of the tasks. Having slow processing speed makes it hard to digest all that information quickly enough to finish the directions.
  • A child with slow processing speed may see the letters that make up a word in the correct way, but they may not immediately know what they spell. It’s not that she can’t read. It’s just that a process that’s quick and automatic for other kids her age takes longer and requires more effort for her.
  • Slow processing speed impacts learning at all stages. It can make it harder for young children to master the basics of reading, writing and counting. Older kids display slow processing speed by the inability to perform tasks quickly and accurately.

Signs of Slow Processing Speed:
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Slow processing speed can affect kids in the classroom, at home and during activities like sports.  Children may show recurring difficulties in:

  • Finishing tests in the given time
  • Finishing homework in reasonable time
  • Listening or taking notes when a teacher is speaking
  • Reading and taking notes
  • Solving simple math problems in their head
  • Completing multi-step math problems in the allotted time
  • Doing written projects that require details and complex thoughts
  • Keeping up with conversations

Parents and teachers may notice that a child:

  • Becomes overwhelmed by too much information at once
  • Needs more time to make decisions or give answers
  • Needs to read information more than once for comprehension
  • Has trouble following multi-step directions

Signs of Anxiety:

Anxiety happens to all of us. But for some children, it can also result and be fueled by Slow Processing Speed and Visual Delays.  As adults, when feel anxious we freeze for a moment. During that time, we’re not processing information as fast as we might otherwise be. We may take longer to respond, make decisions or size up situations.

In children, this anxiety can create a delay in processing speed. But slow processing speed can also create feelings of anxiety. They actually fuel each other, but determining which one comes on first is key to finding the root of the learning difficulty.

Imagine a child taking a test in class. She sees her classmates moving quickly from problem to problem, while she trails behind.  This event may create a lot of anxiety in the moment. It might even make her feel anxious before the next test. But the more anxious she becomes, the slower her processing becomes, ending in her failing the test even though she knew the material.

This cycle can make it difficult to tell where the anxiety stops and the slow processing speed begins. Which one caused which? Also there is the question of what fueled them, a visual delay, attention issue or learning difficulty.

Signs of Visual Delays:

Visual development delays can disguise themselves as attention issues, anxiety and slow processing speed, among many other learning delays.  The signs of a visual delay can present itself as visual-motor skill difficulties such as using scissors or gluing, copying letters or numbers incorrectly, or the inability to distinguish between similar letters or shapes, among may other tasks that appear as a learning delay.

The Importance of Recognizing Slow Processing Speed in Children:

What you should know about slow processing speedSlow processing speed isn’t a learning or attention issue on its own, but it can contribute to learning and attention issues such as dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, chronic anxiety or auditory processing disorder. It can also impact functioning thinking skills that help kids plan, set goals, respond to problems, and be persistent. Kids who are slow to process information may have trouble getting started on assignments, staying focused and assessing how well they’re doing.

Important to Remember:

  • Children with slow processing speed often have feelings of anxiety.
  • Without intervention, these feelings can develop into chronic anxiety disorder.
  • Slow processing speed is not a learning or attention disorder, but can fuel them.
  • Visual delays may first present themselves as slow processing speed symptoms, attention issues or recurring anxiety.

Key Steps to Diagnosing Visual Delays or Slow Processing Speed

If you suspect your child is struggling with processing speed, the first step is to speak to your child’s teachers.  Discuss you own observations and concerns and find out if the teacher has noticed some of the same issues or maybe ones you have not noticed at home.

Next, schedule a visual exam with a Developmental Optometrist, who will look for developmental delays in your child’s vision…becoming increasingly common due to extended use of monitors and tablets.  The exam will include a number of tests not included in a standard exam. A program of Vision therapy may be all that is required to correct these delays and resolve the anxiety and vision based processing speed issues.

From there, if the Developmental Optometrist suspects other issues are interfering with your child’s ability to learn, you may be referred to have them evaluated to determine what kinds of help may be necessary.

Recognizing, understanding and addressing the link between visual delays, anxiety and slow processing speed is essential in getting your child help. But showing empathy is key to helping them recognize and manage their anxiety. Working encouragingly with them will let them know they are not alone, and that you’re there to support them.