Poor Processing Speed

Excerpt from the ebooklet Working with children with poor processing speed by Murray Evely and Zoe Ganim, 2014.

Processing speed relates to an individual’s ability to perform simple

Processing skills are crucial in almost all learning activities, particularly those involved in reading, writing, maths and social functioning.

Children with poor processing speed are slower and less fluent than same-aged peers when:

  • Comparing or scanning visual information such as letters, words, numbers, symbols, patterns or pictures, for similarities or differences.
  • Performing basic arithmetic.
  • Reading and comprehending words and text.
  • Writing words or dictation.
  • Copying from the board or from a text.
  • Doing things in the correct order.
  • Starting and finishing work in class.
  • Starting and completing homework.
  • Learning routines.
  • Relating to others.
  • Completing tests.
  • Children with poor processing ability can become frustrated, tired and anxious. While they know how to perform the task, their recall and thinking is slow and requires more effort than for most of their peers. This, in turn, makes them more likely to make simple errors when recalling learnt material such as number facts or spelling words, as slow processing consumes attentional resources, and can distract them from the task at hand.

Strategies to support the child with poor processing speed

  • Allow the child more time. Wait several seconds or more before expecting the child to answer questions, so they can organise their thinking. This extra time can help the child to process the question, and retrieve or formulate an answer. It can be helpful to give the child advance warning of questions and tasks. For written tasks and assignments, it may be necessary to allow up to double the time allocated for most other children. Similarly, allow more time for the child to make decisions when offered a choice of activities, and answering questions during quizzes, tests or exams.
  • Consider recommending referral to a general practitioner, optometrist, occupational therapist (OT), psychologist, or another appropriate medical specialist. It is important to rule out any issues the child may have with vision, motor skills, or medical health (such as low thyroid, an iron deficiency, epilepsy or an injury). Alternatively, the child may experience psychological issues (such as anxiety or depression) or disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that affect processing speed. Referral by a general practitioner, to a paediatrician, neurologist, or child psychiatrist is needed to diagnose ADHD/ADD or ASD. Psychologists may also be involved in diagnosis and treatment. Referrals to these professionals must be made through the child’s parents.
  • Reduce the volume of class work, homework, tests and exams. Ensure you reduce the volume and not the level of difficulty. Aim to help the child to produce quality work, not quantity. For example:
  • Ask the child to give brief written responses. Modify work requirements so, for example, have them write dot points or a few sentences instead of half a page, or two pages instead of five.

Download the full version of this ebooklet below to access more strategies including recommendations for how to help:

  • General strategies
  • Modify assessment and reduce the quantity of work
  • Build automaticity
  • Modify instructions
  • Homework
  • Address other factors affecting processing speed including:
  • Handwriting issues
  • Psychosocial issues
  • Problems getting started or with organisation
  • Attention issues
  • References and resources

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