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September 15, 2014
This blog is the second in a two-part series from Dr. Braaten entitled Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up. You can check out the first blog in the series here.
“Processing speed” is a concept that describes how long it takes someone to perceive information, process that information and formulate or enact a response. In my last blog on the topic, I noted that there is no simple way to increase someone’s speed of processing, but that accepting, accommodating and advocating are some general ways to cope with processing speed in a variety of settings. In this blog, I’d like to give parents some specific suggestions on how to cope with slow processing speed at home and at school.
At home, processing speed deficits can make nearly any situation more difficult, as one child can slow down the entire family. In addition, research has shown that when children are not well-matched to their environment, they can show behavior problems and other difficulties as they grow up. This idea is sometimes referred to as “goodness of fit”—that is, how well a child’s personality matches—or fits with—his or her family’s. Although slow processing speed is only one variable in goodness of fit between parent and child, it is an important one, and one that becomes increasingly more important over time. It’s critical, therefore, for parents to know their own speed of processing so they can better understand how they are matched to their children.
Recognizing the ways slow processing speed impacts day-to-day life at home is a critical first step in helping a child overcome these weaknesses. If you have a child with this profile, minimizing family stressors is the most important thing you can do for him or her. In fact, dozens of studies have shown that minimizing stress is the most important thing a parent can do for any child. More specifically, there are some practical strategies for accommodating slow processing speed at home:
As hard as it is to cope with slow processing at home, for some kids, it’s even harder to cope in the classroom. Classrooms run at a certain pace, and when you’re slow to keep up, you’re going to feel behind. Think about the typical public school classroom: one teacher with an underfunded classroom of 25 to 30 students, many of whom have unique learning styles. It’s tough for any child, and particularly tough for those who have trouble keeping up with the pace of a typical class. In the book Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, my co-author and I note the importance of figuring out how a child attempts to deal with his or her slow processing speed. We find that most of the kids we see with slow processing speed fit into one or more of the following categories:
It may be clear from reading this list that the teacher is possibly the most important variable for these kids. I have found that to be the case, with certain demonstrated characteristics being particularly helpful. This includes teachers who are empathic, have a good sense of humor and are thoughtful about workload (which includes a de-emphasis on busywork). Good school characteristics, on the other hand, include an environment open to parent-teacher collaboration, an environment that conveys a positive emphasis on individual differences, a school that is neat, clean and uncluttered—both physically and visually, time for recess and flexible groupings of students.
Managing a child with slow processing speed at home and at school is challenging for all involved. Approaching the school as a collaborator helps set the stage for your child to take advantage of the opportunities the learning environment provides. A child’s performance at school then sets the stage for the way he or she will cope with challenges in life. Finding the right balance of accommodating the challenges versus accepting them is tough, but it can be done.