Slow Processing Speed: What You Need to Know

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

  • Processing speed is the pace at which you take in information, make sense of it, and begin to respond.

  • Some people have faster processing speed than others.

  • It has nothing to do with how smart someone is.

When someone says something to you, how long does it take you to process the information and respond? You may have never even thought about it before. But that response time is the result of something called processing speed.

Everyone processes information at a different pace. Maybe you’ve seen your child standing silently for a few seconds before responding to someone, spending more time on homework than expected, or taking a long time to explain something. This could be related to processing speed.

Learn more about processing speed, and what happens when kids take a long time to process information.

What Is Processing Speed?

Processing speed is the pace at which you take in information, make sense of it, and begin to respond. This information can be visual, like letters and numbers. It can also be auditory, like spoken language.

Some people have faster processing speed than others. It has nothing to do with how smart someone is—just how fast they take in and use information.

Kids who process more quickly might be the first one to answer a teacher’s question, or be the kid in class who always has the funny one-liner. Kids with slow processing speed, on the other hand, may take a lot longer than other kids to do things, both in and out of school.

For example, imagine the word house. A child with slow processing speed might not immediately know what those letters say. They have to figure out what strategy to use to understand the meaning of the letters in front of them. It’s not that they can’t read. It’s just that a process that’s quick and automatic for other kids their age takes longer.

“Having slow processing speed has nothing to do with how smart kids are—just how fast they can take in and use information.”

Saying too many things at once can also pose a challenge. If you give multi-step directions—“When you come downstairs, bring your notebook. And can you also bring down the dirty glasses, and put them in the dishwasher?”—a child with slow processing speed may not follow all of them. Having slow processing speed makes it hard to digest all that information quickly enough to do what was asked.

Slow processing speed can make it tough to learn at all ages. It can make it harder for young kids to master the basics of reading, writing, and counting. And it impacts older kids’ ability to do tasks quickly and accurately.

Watch as an expert explains slow processing speed and how it affects kids.

What Slow Processing Speed Looks Like

Slow processing speed can affect kids in the classroom, at home, and during activities like sports. Kids might have trouble with:

  • Finishing tests on time

  • Finishing homework in a reasonable amount of time

  • Listening or taking notes when a teacher is speaking

  • Taking notes while reading

  • Solving math problems in their head

  • Doing written projects with multiple steps and details

  • Keeping up with conversation

Families and teachers may notice that a child:

  • Gets overwhelmed by too much information at once

  • Needs more time to make decisions or give answers

  • Needs to read information more than once to understand it

  • Misses nuances in conversation

  • Has trouble following directions, especially when told to do more than one thing

What to Do If You’re Concerned

If you think a child is struggling with processing speed, the first step is to connect the dots. Teachers can reach out to a student’s family. And families should reach out to their child’s teacher. Share your own observations and find out what’s happening at home or in class.

Find out whether processing speed can vary from task to task. And see what it’s like to struggle with processing speed: Explore a day in the life of a child with slow processing speed.

Key Takeaways

  • Slow processing speed can make it hard to follow directions and get things done.

  • It can also make it hard for kids to keep up in school.

  • Teachers and families should connect and share information if they’re concerned about a child’s processing speed.