Processing Speed

Mary’s (age 12) academic work has always taken her twice as long as her peers! No matter how focused she is, she just does not work quickly. In classes that move fast, and require lots of notes and recording assignments, Mary often feels overwhelmed and frustrated. Something has to change!

If your child has slow processing speed, some helpful strategies can be employed. First, remind your child the old adage from the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race [1]. In the classic fable, the hare starts out the race strong but is caught napping on the job. The tortoise keeps going and never gives up, eventually winning the race.

Many high achievers work slower than others. Often, in a family where there is one child who finds that school comes easy, and another child who may have to struggle and work hard to keep up, the one who struggles but never stops will eventually find more success.

Regardless of your child’s intellectual ability, focus on attitude and effort. Hard work will win the race in the end.

Another way to improve processing speed is to provide lots of priming and practice [2]. Remind your child to rehearse materials in advance. Prepare for success. Practice will increase automaticity, which will eventually improve the child’s speed of processing, at least for that task.

For example, a child with slow processing speed will likely struggle on math fact drills, such as the “mad minute” multiplication drill. However, practicing math facts with flash cards or computerized practice (ixl.com or multiplication baseball) will eventually improve the child’s speed on such tasks.

Accommodations: If your child’s reading is slow, more practice with grade-level sight words will increase reading fluency.

Finally, if your child’s skills are very low in terms of processing speed, a consultation with the school may help. A 504 plan or IEP may be necessary. Both the 504 and the IEP can provide accommodations such as “extra prompting and process time” and “extended time on tests and assignments.” 

To learn more about processing speed, visit our CLEAR Child Reading Room!

[1] Stevens, Janet (1985). The tortoise and the hare: An Aesop fable.

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[2] Mather, Nancy & Goldstein, Sam (2015). Learning disabilities and challenging behaviors: Using the building blocks model to guide intervention and classroom management, third edition.

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