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Information processing issues

How Can I Get My Child’s Teachers to Recognize Processing Speed as a Real Issue?

By Ellen Braaten

My son was diagnosed two years ago with ADHD and with learning disabilities due to very slow processing speed. But his teachers don’t seem to accept processing speed as a true problem. One teacher in particular is very frustrated with what she sees as my son’s lack of effort. How can I get my child’s teachers to recognize processing speed as a real issue?

Ellen Braaten

Director, Learning and Emotional Assessment Program, Massachusetts General Hospital

It can be tough to get teachers to understand that processing speed is a real issue. This is in part because slow processing speed often looks like kids are lazy or unmotivated, though they are neither.

It’s also important to note that processing speed on its own is generally not enough to qualify a child for an IEP or a 504. But that doesn’t change the fact that processing speed can make it very hard for smart kids to keep up in class.

There are plenty of strategies that teachers can use to help. To get your child’s teachers on board, here are some ways you can help explain that this is a biological issue, not a motivational one.

Show your child’s evaluation report to his teachers. (It sounds like you’ve already done the first thing I would recommend: getting a thorough evaluation. So the next step is to share the report with your child’s teachers.)

Don’t assume they’ve already read the report—even if they’re on your child’s IEP team. If the school evaluated your child, enlist the help of the school psychologist. This person can help explain to teachers how processing speed affects kids in the classroom. If your child had a private evaluation, it may be up to you to relay the results to the teachers.

Showing teachers the “data” can have a powerful effect. This is especially true if the report shows a big difference between processing speed and overall intelligence. Point out these parts of the report.

For example, let’s say your child’s overall intelligence is at the 75th percentile. But his processing speed is at the 7th percentile. Use these data points to help the teachers understand why your child has trouble completing tasks in a timely manner.

You may also want to bring up some of the biological factors that can limit processing speed. These include low levels of certain brain chemicals. Some neurotransmitters have been linked to slower reaction times as well as attention issues.

There may be other biological factors too. These include how well brain cells are coated with a substance called myelin, which affects how quickly these cells can send messages to each other.

It might also help if you give some examples of how processing speed affects your child at home. Ask what the teachers are seeing in the classroom. And then work together to try to figure out what might be due to processing speed and what might be due to other factors like attention issues or weak reading skills.

Learning more about processing speed can make a big difference. The more your child’s teachers know about the issue, the more likely they are to brainstorm ways to help. These might include giving your child an outline or notes for daily lessons and other kinds of classroom accommodations for kids with slow processing speed.

About the Author

Portrait of Ellen Braaten

Ellen Braaten is the director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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