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I’m Concerned My Child Might Have Slow Processing Speed. Now What?

By Amanda Morin

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Is your child slow to respond to directions? Does she take a long time to do things that seem like they should be easier for her? It could be that slow processing speed is causing your child’s struggles. If so, it can be tough to know where to begin to find out.

Here are steps you can take to determine if your child has slow processing speed, and where to go from there.


Learn about processing speed.

Having a more in-depth understanding about processing speed can help you better frame your concerns about your child. Learn how information processing issues are tied to learning and attention issues. Find out how processing speed can vary from task to task. And see how brain chemistry can affect it.


Understand the idea of co-occurring issues.

When a child has more than just one condition, it’s known as having “co-occurring” issues. Slow processing speed can come hand in hand with or contribute to other issues like ADHD and executive functioning issues, dyslexia, dyscalculia or auditory processing disorder. Find out what to do if you’re concerned your child may have a learning or attention issue.


Keep track of your concerns.

Observe your child and take notes about the things that stand out to you. Slow processing speed can look different depending on the situations. For example, your child may understand how to do her geometry homework but not be able to explain the concepts to you. She may get overwhelmed and not be able to start a task when there’s a lot of information to sort through. Or she might start a task, but then stop after a short time because she’s confused (even if the task shouldn’t be too difficult for her).

Keep in mind that slow processing speed can have an emotional impact, too. Learn about the connection between slow processing speed and anxiety.


Speak with your child’s doctor.

Schedule a time to talk to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns and to go over your notes. If you think your child may be self-conscious, you may want to find a time when she doesn’t have to come with you.

Keep in mind that slow processing speed is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). That’s the manual that gives professionals the criteria needed to make a diagnosis. And not all doctors have heard of slow processing speed. If this is the case with your doctor, you may have to get a second opinion.


Consult with a specialist.

Your pediatrician may refer you to a developmental specialist or a psychologist. A developmental specialist can assess your child’s developmental skills to help identify or rule out other learning and attention issues. A psychologist can do testing that looks at different types of cognitive processing, including processing speed, to help pinpoint what’s causing your child’s struggles.

If you don’t have insurance, or if your insurance doesn’t cover an evaluation by a specialist, here are options for free or low-cost private evaluations.


Talk to your child’s teacher about slow processing speed.

It’s important to talk with the teacher about your child’s issues. Not all teachers know about slow processing speed, and you can help the teacher understand that your child isn’t unmotivated.

Share what you’ve seen at home, strategies that may help and any data from evaluations that can help shed some light on your child’s struggles. Understanding more can help the teacher find ways to help in the classroom.


Ask what’s been happening at school.

It’s important to talk to the teacher about your child’s trouble with processing speed. It’s also important to ask the teacher what she’s seeing at school. Does your child need extra time to read and understand text or directions? Does she find it hard to take notes and listen at the same time? You may want to talk about using informal supports to help.


Consider requesting an evaluation for supports at school.

You may want to request a free educational evaluation. Slow processing speed on its own typically isn’t enough to make a child eligible for an IEP or a 504 plan. But your child’s issues may interfere with learning enough for her to be eligible. Having your child evaluated can provide information that may help guide the support your child gets in school, such as accommodations or specialized instruction.


Meet with the school to discuss supports and services.

Sit down with the school to discuss the evaluation results. You may also want to think about providing the results of any private evaluations you’ve had done. All of that information together can help determine if your child is eligible for an IEP or a 504 plan.


Explore more ways to help with slow processing speed.

Talk to your child’s school and specialists about ways to improve your child’s processing speed, such as working on organization and planning skills. It can also help to learn more about the types of accommodations that can help in the classroom.

And consider joining our community, where parents who’ve been there share tips and advice. For instance, you may want to read how one mom came to appreciate her child’s processing speed.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Mark Griffin

Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.

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