Finding Help For Your Teen’s Slow Processing Disorder

Each and every one of us is unique in our own way.  As the old saying goes, no two brains think alike, which is honestly a good thing!  Every single person has unique brain anatomy, which is a big part of what makes us all individually unique.  Unfortunately, society doesn’t always recognize humans’ innate uniqueness and tends to favor particular traits and characteristics.  This is true in our school system, as most public education systems gear learning towards the neurotypical mind.  So, what does this mean for kids who aren’t neurotypical?  Well, having a learning challenge such as slow processing speed can make it extremely challenging for students to learn in a traditional classroom setting.  Slow processing speed simply means it takes more time for the brain to process information or complete tasks than others.  Slow processing speed is not related to intelligence but is instead caused by brain differences, which affect the way you process and analyze information.  While this disorder does not make your child any more or less “smart” it can affect their experience in the classroom more difficult as they may require certain accommodations.

How to Determine Slow Processing Speed

In order to determine whether or not your child has slow processing speed, it is best to speak to a professional and get a diagnosis.  A diagnosis may also be helpful in getting your child the extra support or accommodations they need from the school system.  There are also some common signs and symptoms of slow processing speed in children that you can observe.  Indicators of slow processing speed include having recurring difficulties in:

  • Finishing test or homework in time
  • Listening or taking notes while the teacher is speaking
  • Reading and taking notes in class
  • Solving simple math problems in their head
  • Completing multi-step problems during allotted time in class
  • Written projects that require details and complex thoughts
  • Keeping up with a conversation

It is also common for parents or teachers to notice when a child:

  • Becomes overwhelmed by a lot of information at once
  • Consistently needs extra time to give answers or make decisions
  • Needs to re-read information multiple times for comprehension
  • Has trouble following multi-step directions

Importance of Recognizing Slow Processing Speed

Slow processing speed is not a learning disorder, although it can make learning more difficult as well as exacerbate any learning or attention disorders that are present, such as ADHD or dyslexia.  However, slow processing speed on its own can still impact functional thinking skills, which help kids to plan, set goals, respond to problems, and be persistent.  Kids with slow processing disorder may find it harder to start or complete assignments, stay focused, and finish or do well on time-limited tests.  This has been shown to contribute to anxiety and can even impact their self-esteem or confidence, particularly in the classroom setting, as they may feel embarrassed or bad about their academic performance when compared to their peers.  Without intervention, children with slow processing disorder are at high risk of developing a chronic anxiety disorder. 

How Slow Processing Speed Affects Teens

Not only can slow processing speed contribute to the development of a chronic anxiety disorder if left unmanaged, but it can also affect teens both inside and outside the classroom as they navigate learning new tasks.  This doesn’t only include academic tasks but can apply to any kind of information.  For example, your teen may be consistently late to school or required activities due to them taking longer to get ready or finish chores/homework before their time commitment.  Showing up late to commitments consistently can impair academic and social success, it may be helpful to determine the approximate amount of time you or your child will need to get ready, try to allow enough time before or in between activities to help your child arrive on time.    

Resources for Help

Slow processing speed can be potentially problematic for children as they age, particularly if it is not managed and cared for.  Not only is this disorder challenging academically, but it can be personally as well.  Unfortunately, many teens begin to associate their struggles to process information quickly as a sign of inadequacy.  Adolescents with slow processing speed may struggle with self-esteem as they may begin to view themselves as less intelligent than their peers due to them taking longer to solve problems.  Slow processing speed does not affect your child’s level of intelligence, but it may begin to affect their academic performance, particularly if they start to doubt themselves and their intellectual abilities.  Helping your teen to boost their self-esteem and believe in their own abilities as well as get the academic support they need can drastically reduce the negative impact of slow processing speed as children grow into adulthood.  The following are some recommended strategies to help teens with lower processing speeds:

  • Breaking up work into segments.  Breaking down assignments or responsibilities into smaller segments can help make your workload seem more manageable.  This is good for teens with slow processing speed as they may easily become overwhelmed with managing multiple tasks at once.  Breaking up work into manageable segments can help avoid distraction and becoming overwhelmed.
  • Take regular “brain breaks”.  While it may take longer for some teens to finish their homework and daily tasks, this means that they need to take more breaks as well.  Taking regular short breaks while completing assignments is good to help recharge the brain and avoid potential burnout.
  • Advocate for accommodations within the classroom.  Students with slow processing speed typically need more time than the average student to finish tests and assignments.  Equipping students with some educational technology can be helpful as well, as it may give them the opportunity to review information after class, as well as be a faster and easier way to take notes.  Advocate for your child’s needs for accommodations within the classroom to fit their learning style. 
  • Offer additional tutoring outside of school.  Getting a bit of extra help is never a bad thing.  If you have the ability to provide your child with a tutor, it may help them a lot with their academic performance and confidence.  If not, some schools offer after-school learning programs or peer tutoring lessons which may be more affordable.
  • Practice skills and efficiency.  Practicing certain skills or tasks can help improve your child’s processing speed for that particular skill.  As we continually repeat a task it becomes more automatic, like riding a bike, thus reducing processing time.  In addition, you can help your child process tasks quicker by teaching them skills on how to become efficient or cut downtime on certain tasks.  For example, this can include helping your child make a to-do list and determining which assignments or responsibilities needed to be done first, and prioritizing based on the tasks at hand. 
  • Work on planning and organizational skills.  For students with slow processing disorders, staying organized can be very helpful.  Organization can help you know what tasks need to be done and in what order, helping to maintain efficiency.  Creating a plan can also help to address work that needs to be done and create an outline as to how it will get done.  Sticking to a plan or routine can help to avoid distractions.

New Focus Academy Can Help

If your teen is struggling with slow processing speed New Focus Academy may be able to help.   

New Focus Academy is a therapeutic residential treatment program designed for adolescents (ages 12-18) who are struggling with social and functional challenges.  Our program believes that all teens deserve the chance to live happy, healthy, and productive lives.  We help to give our students the necessary skills and tools to ensure their success in the academic setting.  New Focus Academy provides a different approach to learning than your typical classroom setting.  We pride ourselves in providing instruction in an encouraging environment that promotes self-determination, resilience, and excellence in learning.  These skills that students adopt from our program have a lasting impact on their academic and personal success as they grow into adulthood.   

For more information about how our program can help teens with slow processing speed, please call (844) 313-6749 today.   

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