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What is slow processing speed?

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

  • Processing speed is how long it takes someone to get something done.

  • Some people take longer to process information than others.

  • Slow processing speed isn’t related to intelligence.

Slow processing speed is when people need a lot of time to take in, make sense of, and respond to information. The information can be visual, like letters or numbers. It can also be auditory, like spoken language. 

Having slow processing speed can create frequent challenges at school, on the job, and in social situations. 

For example, young kids may struggle to master the basics of reading, writing, and counting. People of all ages may have trouble doing tasks quickly and accurately. They often have a hard time remembering new information.

Interacting with others can also be tricky. People with slow processing speed may stand silently for a few seconds before responding to someone. Or they might take a long time to explain something. 

Slow processing speed has nothing to do with how smart people are — just how quickly they take in and use information. Still, having this challenge can create a lot of anxiety and take a toll on self-esteem. 

Slow Processing Speed Fact Sheet

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Dive deeper

Signs of slow processing speed

Slow processing speed can affect every area of life. It’s a lifelong challenge, and the signs can look different at different ages. Still, there are some common things you may notice. People with slow processing speed may:

  • Get overwhelmed by too much information at once

  • Need more time to make decisions or give answers

  • Often miss social cues

  • Need to read information more than once to understand it

  • Miss nuances in conversation and have trouble keeping up

  • Have trouble following directions and routines

  • Have trouble finishing tasks on time or in a reasonable amount of time

There are two types of information people can struggle with — visual and auditory. But they don’t always struggle with both. And some struggle with motor speed. So they have trouble reacting quickly to physical tasks, like filling out a form.

Explore more signs of slow processing speed at different ages

What causes slow processing speed

Many experts believe that slow processing speed is related to differences in the brain. It’s not a matter of intelligence, however. Many bright people process information slowly.

See an illustrated guide to slow processing speed and the brain .

Slow processing speed often co-occurs with . And many kids with slow processing speed also have anxiety. But it’s not clear whether problems with processing speed lead to anxiety or the other way around.

Get more information about slow processing speed and anxiety

How to help with slow processing speed

Slow processing speed doesn’t go away with age. But there are strategies and supports that can help make it less challenging. 

One is to practice a specific skill as much as possible. The more automatic a task is, the quicker it is to process. Another tip is to start routines early to avoid rushing.

Schools can help by giving kids accommodations to keep slow processing speed from getting in the way of learning. Adults may get accommodations at work, too.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom