Small Success: My Son With Slow Processing Speed Made Me Stop and Enjoy the Holidays

I’m the mother of a wonderfully thoughtful son who, like many kids with , has slow processing speed. We’re alike in many ways. A big difference between us, though, is that we march to different tempos. I’m always running in 10 different directions, while he’s more likely to be concentrating on one thing.

A couple years ago, when he was home from college for the holidays, I had big plans for us. I wanted to spend every moment with him doing something. This included going to new restaurants, going to sporting events and doing holiday things, like shopping—outings that took planning, money and lots of energy.

Not surprisingly, these plans didn’t work out. My son came home exhausted from school, was ready to see old friends, and wanted to just “hang out.” He stayed up late and slept until noon.

My agenda items went undone, and I felt like a failure for not spending what was, in my opinion, “quality time” with my son.

Then near the end of his holiday vacation, we were making dinner. It was just the two of us, and I said to him, “I feel so bad we didn’t do more together while you were home.” He said to me, “Mom, making dinner is doing stuff together! We’re going to eat. We’re talking and having fun and I get to just be with you.”

His words were particularly thoughtful, because I remember a time when making dinner wasn’t such a fun task. Sometimes, I used to work through a recipe so quickly that he struggled to participate. Rather than enjoying the moment doing an activity with him, I was determined to just get it done as fast as possible.

In my world, “making dinner” was something you did on the way to doing something else. In my son’s world, making dinner with me was the “something else.”

I wish I had understood that years earlier. He shined a spotlight on something I wasn’t able to see. He taught me to savor time in an entirely different way. That is no small success, but rather a great one.

—Ellen Braaten

Ellen Braaten is the director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She’s also the co-author of Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up and Straight Talk About Psychological Testing for Kids.

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About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.