How to talk to your child about slow processing speed

Talking about your child’s specific challenges with slow processing speed can help you work together to find solutions.

Many parents worry that talking to their child about their learning and thinking differences, or “labeling” them, will make them 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 your child see their challenges in a different light and understand their strengths as well.

Before you talk to your child, however, it’s important to know exactly where and how slow processing is impacting them. 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 their brain or mind doesn’t work well. Be sure they know they’re just as smart as their classmates (maybe smarter!) and they may just have difficulty in this area.

Tell your child 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, they would. Their inability to do so is likely as frustrating to them as it is to others around them. Make sure your child knows you understand that theyÆre trying as hard as they can, and in fact is often trying harder than lots of other kids.

Talk about how slow processing speed impacts them.

It will likely be a great relief to your child to discuss their differences. It’s good to know how they impact them in school, at home, and in social settings.

While this might be a tough conversation, your child needs to understand that their processing differences might mean it takes them 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 they’re “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 them, too. You can combat this by explaining to the other kids that everyone learns differently and moves at a different pace.

Get tips on how to answer your other kids’ questions. And find out what you can say when your child with slow processing speed gets frustrated.

Give them 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 them time to ask questions. Make space for listening to your child’s feelings about what you’ve told them and what they feel can be helpful.

Talk about other learning and thinking differences they 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 their challenges. But it’s also important to let them know there are strategies to help them with any challenges they have.

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 challenges like dyslexia.

Help your child see themself in a positive light.

Your child’s struggles may have an impact on their self-esteem. But having slow processing speed is only a part of who they are. You can explain that their strengths are equally important. For example, your child may be highly creative or empathetic. Or they may excel in certain subjects. Point out all of your child’s talents and interests to assure them that there are many things they can do well. Read about how to give praise that builds self-esteem. And learn about classroom accommodations that might help.

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 they haven’t yet had a full evaluation, they 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 your child understand exactly why and where they struggle.

Read a personal story from the author about how she’s come to respect her child’s slow processing speed.


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