At a glance
Talking to your child about his slow processing speed can be empowering for him.
It’s important to explain that having slow processing speed doesn’t mean he’s not smart.
It also helps to remind your child of his talents and strengths.
Many parents worry that talking to their child about his learning and thinking differences or “labeling” them will make him feel worse. But kids tend to take comfort in knowing there’s a reason—and a name—for their struggles. That’s especially true for kids with slow processing speed.
It can be hard for kids to understand why it takes them so long to finish a test or answer a question. Even the term “slow processing speed” can be tricky to explain.
Anything that implies someone is “slower than” seems negative. But you can help him see his issues in a different light, and understand he has strengths as well as challenges.
Before you talk to your child, however, it’s important to know exactly where and how slow processing is impacting him. Slow processing speed can affect kids in different areas. These include verbal, visual, academic and motor skills.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you talk to your child.
Explain what processing speed is—and isn’t.
Processing speed is how long it takes to get things done. All people do things at a different pace. Some talk fast and some talk slower, for instance. But these differences can make things difficult in school where doing things quickly is often important.
Tell your child that processing speed isn’t the same as intelligence. We often equate intelligence with doing things quickly. This isn’t true. Intelligence is how we solve problems, and how we talk about and understand the world around us. Many smart people have slower processing speed. In fact, there are lots of tasks and jobs that require a slower, more thoughtful approach.
It’s important to let your child know that having processing speed differences does not mean his brain or mind doesn’t work well. Be sure he knows he’s just as smart as his classmates (maybe smarter!), but just has difficulty in this area.
Tell him that processing speed isn’t “laziness,” either. Kids who have difficulty with processing speed are often told they need to “speed it up.” It’s not uncommon to hear adults tell them they are being “lazy” or “not trying hard enough.”
If your child could do things faster, he would. His inability to do so is likely as frustrating to him as it is to others around him. Make sure he knows you understand that he’s trying as hard as he can, and in fact is often trying harder than lots of other kids.
Talk about how slow processing speed impacts him.
It will likely be a great relief to your child to discuss his differences. It’s good to know how they impact him in school, at home and in social settings.
While this might be a tough conversation, your child needs to understand that his processing differences might only mean it takes him longer to do certain tasks. Talking about this can be empowering. It’s also the first step to figuring out solutions.
For example, maybe slow processing speed makes it hard for your child to take notes in class. Knowing that can help you work together to come up with note-taking solutions.
Don’t forget about the rest of the family.
Processing speed differences tend to run in families. If this is the case in your family, consider telling your child. It can be comforting for a child to know he’s “just like Dad.”
But for children who aren’t like anyone else in the family, it can be especially frustrating. In fact, they may act out. Siblings might tease him, too. You can combat this by explaining to the other kids that everyone learns differently and moves at a different pace.
Give him time and space to process this information.
Kids with processing speed differences often need extra time to take in the information. Don’t overwhelm your child, and give him time to ask questions. Make space for listening to your child’s feelings about what you’ve told him and what he feels can be helpful.
Talk about other learning and thinking differences he might have, too.
Slow processing speed can co-occur with other learning and thinking differences, like or . Kids with slow processing speed are also at risk for anxiety. If your child struggles in other areas, you can explain the differences between his challenges. But it’s also important to let him know there are strategies to help him with any challenges he has.
In this clip from a live expert chat, watch the author talk about why explaining slow processing speed to your child can be trickier than explaining issues like dyslexia.
Help your child see himself in a positive light.
Your child’s struggles may have an impact on his self-esteem. But having slow processing speed is only a part of who he is. You can explain that his strengths are equally important. For example, he may be highly creative or empathetic. Or he may excel in certain subjects. Point out all of his talents and interests to assure him that there are many things he can do well.
Because slow processing speed can often occur with other learning and thinking differences, it’s important for your child to have a full evaluation. If he hasn’t yet had a full evaluation, he can be tested either at school or privately. Find out how to request a school evaluation or a private evaluation. You can use the results to help him understand exactly why and where he struggles.
Read a personal story from the author about how she’s come to respect her child’s slow processing speed.
Make sure your child knows that you understand he’s not just “being lazy.”
Talking through his specific challenges can help you work together to find solutions.
Point out your child’s talents, and remind him there are many things he does well.
About the author
About the author
Ellen Braaten, PhD is a child psychologist, professor, and founding director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital.