Processing Speed: Why Slow Processing Speed Makes Simple Tasks Daunting for Kids Executive Functioning

Processing Speed: Why Slow Processing Speed Makes Simple Tasks Daunting for Kids

This article provides helpful information about slow processing speed in the classroom and at home. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.

Max, a 7-year-old boy, frequently has trouble executing the most basic daily tasks. He displays attention problems in school and gets distracted regularly from the activity he is supposed to be doing. For instance, in the morning, Max has to be reminded 3 to 4 times to brush his teeth. When he finally buckles down and completes that task, he has forgotten what else he needs to do to get ready for school. His clothes are laid out in his room, but he gets distracted with some toys in his closet and starts to play. His parents have to watch him closely and they constantly throw out reminders and directions to get the most basic jobs completed.

Processing Speed: Why Slow Processing Speed Makes Simple Tasks Daunting for Kids | ilslearningcorner.com

This story is not unique. I have heard it in various forms, numerous times while working with families at our center. Parents describe that although their child seems to understand the subjects in school, they take longer than their peers to get the schoolwork done. I had one mother say she was constantly telling her daughter to “pick up the pace.” While many of these kids seem unmotivated or even lazy, they actually struggle with an area of cognitive functioning referred to as processing speed.

Sometimes kids have processing speed deficits that can put them at a disadvantage in the classroom. Parents, teachers and other mentors in the child’s life may notice certain traits that contribute to their slow processing speed. Some of the traits include the following:

  • Needs extra time to make decisions
  • Frequently overwhelmed with a task
  • Has trouble starting homework
  • Has difficulty finishing homework
  • Takes a long time to complete homework
  • Hates changes to routines
  • Regularly underestimates the time they need to complete a task
  • Struggles with trying any new foods
  • Lacks focus with reading and taking notes
  • Tries to avoid multi-step math problems
  • Has difficulty recognizing how their behavior affects others

In the classroom, a child that has weak processing speed may do the following:

  • Forgets to bring materials from home for school assignments
  • Does not finish tests in allotted timeframes
  • Struggles to take notes while the teacher is lecturing
  • Does not completes classwork at school (frequently brings home worksheets to finish)
  • Finds difficulty in solving mental math
  • Doesn’t plan ahead for large school projects

When Processing Speed is Weak

Slow processing speed has nothing to do with how smart your child is. However, processing that is weak affects how fast your child can complete a task, and how they use the information. Just because your child can’t complete an assignment or a reading passage as fast as Suzie that sits next to them, doesn’t mean they can’t complete the same tasks. This is common issue and is many times overlooked, but can affect the child, family and education circle, in multiple ways.

In Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, written by Ellen Braaten and Brian Willoughby, they outline the following:

“Our research has indicated that processing speed is a very big issue in the home. In general, we’ve found that the slower the processing speed, the more problems are reported with chore completion and daily life. When children with slow processing speed talk about family relationships, they tend to report more negative relationships with their parents at statistically higher levels than their peers.”

So what can we do to help our kids overcome processing struggles and improve their processing speed? There is one tip that has repeatedly helped multiple kids as we work with them on a daily basis. The first thing to remember is children with weak or deficient processing speeds usually take longer to comprehend what was verbally said to them. We’ve all heard the saying “actions speak louder than words.” With that phrase in mind, let’s take it one step further with visuals to help your child.

Processing Speed: Why Slow Processing Speed Makes Simple Tasks Daunting for Kids | ilslearningcorner.com

Visual Schedule

Instead of explaining verbally what you need your child to do, try incorporating visuals and actions into their daily routine. (Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up) For example, use a picture schedule for all the steps and tasks needed daily. Hang up the schedule everywhere that would be useful for your child to see (bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, office, etc.).

Use the Clock

The clock is your friend and it is another visual tool that should not be forgotten. The clock can increase your child’s awareness of time and help them practice the important executive function of time management.

Short and Simple Directions

You will, of course, need to verbally direct tasks to your child and talk with them frequently. The key to this is short, simple steps and gradually increase the complexity of your directions. Modify your list of steps so you allow your child the time to process what he or she needs to do and plan out the action. Have your child watch you as you organize for the next day. Then ask them what they saw you do and direct them to do the same throughout the day.

Processing Speed: Why Slow Processing Speed Makes Simple Tasks Daunting for Kids | ilslearningcorner.com

Memory Experiments

This game is fun and exciting for children, and can be done multiple times. Use a tray or cookie sheet and place several fun, colorful items on the tray (for example, Legos, spoons, action figures, Christmas ornaments, pencils, toy cars, push pins, whistles, beads, etc.). Have your child look at the objects on the tray for 60 seconds and memorize as many as possible. After 60 seconds has passed, cover the tray and have your child write or verbally tell you all the objects they remember on the tray. As they master this activity, cut down the amount of time they have to memorize the objects (maybe 45 seconds instead of 60). This allows your child to develop faster processing speeds and forces them to remember and process what objects are on the tray before their time is up.

Developing Processing Skills at Home

Your child’s ability to perform better in school relies on organization and developing their processing skills at home. It takes time and practice. Remember, not all of this can be done at school, so it’s important to continue strengthening these skills at home.

As an overview, the following is a breakdown of some of the steps above along with other tips and tricks to try at home for better processing speeds:

  • Use visuals when teaching or helping your child understand a new concept.
  • Refer to the clock constantly. Keep increasing your child’s awareness of time.
  • Use a picture schedule for their daily schedule. Post it several places around the house and use it!
  • Be the example and show your child what you do to organize and time manage your day.
  • Break up large tasks with multiple steps. Have the child do the first step and come back to you so you can give them the next step. Build upon each step so they can eventually do two steps at a time.
  • Try to keep activities, meals and tasks at the same time every day. Consistency helps kids who are trying to keep up with processing the vast amounts of information coming into their brains.

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Processing Speed: Why Slow Processing Speed Makes Simple Tasks Daunting for Kids | ilslearningcorner.com


Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs

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