Respecting a Child’s Processing Speed in a Fast-Paced World

By Ellen Braaten, PhD on
Email's logo Email's logo

Email

Copy link

Print

Chat's logo Chat's logo

Share

Is there a place in our fast-paced world for a child who processes information slowly? It’s a question that’s been on my mind.

As a child psychologist, I’ve worked with countless kids who are intelligent, but who process information at a slower pace. I’m not just a psychologist, however. I’m also a mom. And my 21-year-old son has processing speed issues (along with ADHD).

In many ways, my son and I are very much alike. But we are quite different when it comes to how fast we take in and handle information.

He speaks slowly and chooses words carefully. I speak fast and always have (perhaps) too much to say.

I love having a hundred things going at one time. He would prefer to do one thing at a time, and do it well. I’m always running in a million different directions—and, because of that, I’m frequently late. He likes getting places on time.

Of course, I understand the concept of slow processing speed. (I even wrote a book all about the topic!) Yet there are still days when I find it tough to put myself in my son’s shoes. It’s not easy to understand why he won’t get things done on my timeline.

I often say to parents that accepting, accommodating and advocating are three of the best ways to meet the challenges of a child with slow processing speed.

Acceptance is the first step. It can be a tough one, though, because kids with slower processing speed often look like they aren’t trying or don’t care. But that’s almost never the case, particularly with younger kids.

In order to accept, you have to first get the facts. A good evaluation can help you do just that. If you understand how and why your child struggles, you can better know what you should be doing to help.

Seeing actual data on your child’s learning, and a pattern of strengths and weaknesses, can change your worldview in an instant.

Without evidence, we as parents have impressions of what we think our kids can and can’t do. With evidence, we can see our frustrations through a more understanding perspective.

Acceptance also means looking at yourself and where you’re coming from:

What is your tempo or processing speed like?

Are you a fast thinker/talker/doer?

Is it possible your child’s difficulties aren’t as bad for him as you think, but she is simply out of sync with your rhythm?

Case in point: My son was recently home from college for a week’s vacation. On one of our nights together, we decided to make dinner.

As we prepared to eat, I apologized because we were spending his vacation time just hanging out and not “doing stuff.” His reply: “Mom, making dinner is doing stuff together!”

It says a lot that just enjoying the act of cooking a meal together didn’t seem to be “enough” for me. One of the biggest complaints many of us have these days is that the world has become too fast-paced.

Kids with a slower speed of processing may be out of sync with the world’s demands. But they have skills—and a natural rhythm—that I think society desperately needs. A slower, more thoughtful, less rushed approach to life is something that comes naturally to them.

Granted, life is filled with things that need to be done quickly, like homework, chores and getting to school on time. Your child will need to learn to advocate for himself. He will need to learn to become more efficient to thrive in today’s world.

But given the right environment and true acceptance, our kids can come up with unique and valuable solutions to problems. They can teach us how to slow down and be intentional with our lives.

They can even show us how to savor something as simple as preparing a family meal together.

Any opinions, views, information and other content contained in blogs on Understood.org are the sole responsibility of the writer of the blog, and do not necessarily reflect the views, values, opinions or beliefs of, and are not endorsed by, Understood.

About the Author

About the Author

Ellen Braaten, PhD 

is the director of LEAP and codirector of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, both at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Did you find this helpful?

Up Next

Stay Informed

Sign up for weekly emails containing helpful resources for you and your family.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Please wait...

By signing up, you acknowledge that you reside in the United States and are at least 13 years old, and agree that you've read the Terms and Conditions. Understood.org does not market to or offer services to individuals in the European Union.