Have you ever noticed a child in your setting that is capable of doing tasks but takes a lot longer than others, or a child that you have said something to and they respond to it a few minutes later? It may be that this child needs extra processing time to take in what has been asked of them.

Processing speed refers to how long it takes someone to receive information, process it and respond to it. Everyone needs processing time, however for some, this takes longer than others. Children with slow processing speed may take a lot longer to perform tasks than their peers, they may find it hard to follow instructions that have more than one step and they can become overwhelmed by too much information at once.

Slow processing speed can cause feelings of anxiety for a young child because they are aware that they are not doing things as quickly as their peers. Likewise, though, anxiety can also add to the slow processing speed therefore it is important that, as carers, we try to figure out which came first and support the child as best as possible.

So how can you support a child with slow processing speed?

Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer to increasing someone’s processing speed, however there are ways that you can support a child through accepting and accommodating their need. 

Minimise stress – this is a huge factor for supporting children with slow processing speed, and often one that needs to be explained to parents. The stresses of family life can make it difficult for parents to allow a child to take a long time over everyday tasks. It is essential, though, that the parent realises that this child needs a little bit longer in order to not feel stressed as this can in turn make their processing speed even slower.

When you give an instruction, say it once and then wait. Don’t keep repeating it. If you repeat yourself then you are likely to use a slightly different tone of voice and this is confusing – particularly for someone on the autism spectrum. The child could hear it as a completely different instruction and therefore have to begin their processing again. Give an instruction and then wait. Wait to see if they do, in fact, process what you have suggested.

Using visuals here is very handy because they don’t change, and they don’t have tone of voice. A child can look at them and take their time understanding what they mean. You could use photos, drawings or visual symbols to represent what you are saying.

For the same reasons above, ask one question at a time and don’t give too much information at once. Simple, one step instructions or questions are best for this child.

Keep to a routine – as far as possible, if things take place at the same time each day then the child has the chance to practise a task and has a much better chance at becoming efficient at it.

Allow lots and lots of time for tasks – I know this is difficult but, where possible, allow enough time for the child to complete their task so that they can feel proud of having finished it within the allotted time rather than feeling rushed.

As you can see, understanding the child’s need is the number one key to being able to help them. If you can become aware of any child in your setting that may have a slower processing speed than others, and make other staff aware, then you have already gone a long way towards supporting them.

About the author

Gina SmithGina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.



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