Q+A: What’s the Difference Between Slow Processing and Other Disorders?

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Posted in: Grade School, Teenagers

Topics: Learning + Attention Issues, Q+A

Question: What is the difference between Slow Processing Speed, Auditory Processing, Sensory Integration, and Autism Spectrum Disorders? They all seem so similar. Is there a lot of misdiagnosis? – Patrice B., Facebook  

Dr. Braaten’s Answer:

This is a great question and one that I hear frequently. There’s a good reason why you’re asking it. These four disorders share some symptoms in common. They also co-occur together. This can make it difficult to diagnose the problem. 

Slow Processing Speed is a term that describes difficulty in getting certain tasks completed in a given period of time. “Processing speed” is how long it takes someone to process information. This information can be verbal, visual, or motor. It’s not related to intelligence, but to timing. The feature that sets this apart from the other disorders is time.  

Kids with slow processing speed have a primary issue in processing information in a timely fashion.

Auditory Processing is a condition that makes it hard to locate where a particular sound is coming from or to process what the ear hears. The unique feature that sets this apart from the other disorders is specific to hearing. 

Kids with auditory processing deficits have trouble processing sounds.

Sensory Integration is a condition where kids are over or undersensitive ((hypersensitive or hyposensitive) to stimuli in the environment, such as sounds, sights, textures, tastes, smells, or any sort of sensory input. They may avoid certain situations because their senses get “overloaded.” The unique feature that sets this apart from the other disorders is any or a combination of the senses 

Kids with sensory integration challenges have difficulty processing information that comes through one or more of their senses – sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a continuum of disorders that can range from mild to more severe, but all kids with ASD have some difficulty processing social interactions. They also frequently have obsessive interests or fascination with certain topics or objects and may also have problems with sensory integration. But the unique feature that sets ASD apart from other disorders is social interactions 

Kids with ASD have trouble understanding social interactions and reading nonverbal cues.

As I mentioned above, it’s very common for children with one of these disorders to have more than one. In diagnosing the problem, a comprehensive evaluation is the only way to answer the question. The evaluator will be looking to find the underlying features that are causing the child’s problem.  This is very important, as the treatment will differ depending on the diagnosis. With the exception of auditory processing, which can only be diagnosed by an audiologist, all of the other mentioned issues can be diagnosed by a psychologist. 

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Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD, is executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and former co-director for the MGH Clay Cente...

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