The emotional toll of slow processing speed on my daughter

My daughter had a “fake” evaluation in the eighth grade. One of my friends was taking a graduate course on evaluating for learning differences and used my daughter as a practice subject. But while the evaluation wasn’t real, the test results were.

My daughter’s language scores were off the charts. That didn’t surprise me. She had always gotten great grades in English and social studies.

What did surprise me was her exceptionally low score on processing speed.

I’d never even heard of the term slow processing speed, let alone that my child struggled with it. I’d also never heard of kids who were twice exceptional. But that term applied too. Once I knew, though, a lot of things about my daughter started making sense.

Even though she’s a great reader, it took my daughter forever to get through a book. She spent hours doing homework, even in grade school. And she hated playing timed board games. If it involved an hourglass or a timer, she just wouldn’t play. Now I understood.

But I didn’t yet understand something much more important: the emotional impact this was having on my daughter.

A “real” private evaluation turned up the same results as the “fake” one. But despite her low processing scores, we couldn’t get our daughter extended time on tests at school. She wasn’t eligible for special education, and the school wouldn’t give her a because her grades were good.

We were disappointed and frustrated, of course. How bad did her grades need to be in order to get support? Without the extra time, she had to work extra hard to keep up. But she was driven to do well at all costs, and she mostly managed to do that.

By high school, however, it became harder for her to compensate for her processing issues. She couldn’t finish her classwork or exams on time, and her grades slipped. Every time she had a low test score, I told her it was OK, and that it didn’t mean she wasn’t smart or capable. Her response was to work even harder the next time.

I took that as a sign of resilience. It wasn’t.

In her junior year we took a holiday trip with our large extended family. My daughter had to bring her books with her. She worked during the vacation and on the plane ride home. After we landed, the whole family stood together in the baggage claim area, laughing and talking about how much fun the trip had been. But when I looked over at my daughter, I saw she was crying.

She hadn’t gotten through her work and would have to stay up all night to finish it.

I felt terrible and worried. I also felt guilty. I had seen the toll her processing issues had taken on her grades, but not on her. I knew she was anxious about school, but I didn’t think it was serious. I had confidence in her. And I assumed that she did, too, despite her struggles.

At the end of that week, my daughter started seeing a therapist. She learned relaxation techniques for when she became stressed or overwhelmed. And she began to understand that her processing issues had nothing to do with her intelligence or her ability. She learned to let go and not worry as much about grades and scores.

In the end, her slow processing speed didn’t get in her way. She did well in college, working at her own pace. It may have taken her longer to get through assignments, but she took periodic setbacks in stride.

After graduation, when she was (anxiously) job hunting, my daughter said something to me out of the blue that I’ll never forget. “You know,” she said, “I’ve finally realized that nobody cares if I’m not perfect.”

She’s right. Even if it sometimes takes her longer to get things done, she’s smart and resourceful and does great work. And yes, she’s resilient. Most of all, my daughter understands that she’s measured by more important things than how fast or slow she is.

Read about the connection between slow processing speed and anxiety. And hear from a mom who learned to respect her son’s slow processing speed in a fast-paced world.

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