Q. My 15-year-old daughter has slow processing speed. We’re starting to talk about potential careers. I’m not sure what direction to steer her in. Are there any careers that are better or worse for kids like her?
A. This is a great question, but one that I can’t answer directly. There are a few reasons for this. First, no two kids with slow processing speed are exactly alike. Some might be fast on the hockey ice but have trouble quickly coming up with verbal responses, while others have slower motor speed but are good writers. That makes generalizing about particular careers difficult.
Second, I find that giving parents and kids a list of possible careers can be limiting. Kids with slow processing speed can be successful in almost any career. It’s the pace of the work environment that’s important, not the specific career. Can they be medical doctors? Sure, but they might make better radiologists than emergency room physicians.
Third, the careers of today are not necessarily the careers of tomorrow. I often find that it’s the kids with the unique learning and processing profiles who are well-suited to these new fields. But it’s hard to predict what opportunities will exist that may or may not be a good fit.
That being said, your daughter will have to choose something in the next few years, and I do have some suggestions.
Forget about “perfect.” Sometimes we forget that choosing a career isn’t about heading down some perfect path. It’s about finding something that interests you and that you enjoy doing. That’s especially true for kids who have challenges to work around. Keep in mind that many kids will change their career choice many times — and that’s OK.
Talk about challenges. You’ve both seen how her processing challenges impact her at school. It’s important for her to think about how they might play out in a future job. If she’s interested in a law career, talk about different ways to be a lawyer. She doesn’t have to work in a fast-paced courtroom to practice law.
Focus on strengths and interests. Is your daughter a deep thinker who values thoroughness? That’s a common type of strength for kids with slow processing speed. But all kids have unique gifts, too. Come up with a list of your daughter’s best qualities, skills, talents and interests. Then research careers that value those things.
Don’t rush decisions. Kids with slow processing speed often take longer to make choices. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People usually make better decisions when they take time to process the information. Give your daughter time to mull over these ideas. She still has plenty of time to think about who she is, and where she sees herself as being happy and successful.
Internships and summer jobs can be good ways to explore different fields. Talking to people who work in those fields can also be helpful. You can help create opportunities for your child to have those conversations.
Picking the right career is daunting for kids. And it can be an anxiety-producing process to watch if you’re the parent of a child with learning differences. But most kids with learning and thinking differences thrive in the right environment. You can help your daughter think about environments where she can use her strengths and work around her weaknesses.
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.