Building Executive Functioning Skills May Be The Best Intervention For Increasing Processing Speed.


processing speed

Processing speed is becoming a stumbling block for many students. The number of students who are requesting extra time on tests has increased tremendously over the years. What does it mean to have a processing speed dysfunction?  The case studies below are examples of how processing speed issues can vary from student to student.

  • Don is a quiet shy boy who loves skateboarding and hanging out with his family. He is sweet and everyone likes him, however he has no close friends. Don does not initiate conversations or join in conversations with friends at school, which keeps him from being part of the “group”.  Don moves at his own pace and cannot be rushed. Don’s slow processing is global. He is slow moving (except on a skateboard!), slow reading and writing, slow to take in verbal information and to respond verbally to questions.  Don can now read and write at grade level, but his reading and writing fluency are slow. Don continues to have difficulty finding the right words to express his ideas and still would rather sit back and watch a group than join in. Don needs extra time to take in, process and organize his ideas before responding regardless of the type of task presented. 
  • Sara is 8 years year old and quick as quick can be to let you know her opinions. She is highly social and very verbal. Her reading and reading comprehension skills are strong. Sara struggles with slowing down when she is writing. Her handwriting skills are poor and her spelling is weak. She makes careless errors on math problems, which causes her to lose points and get low grades. When asked to write for school Sara quickly becomes upset. Homework is a stressful and prolonged activity. Sara’s fine motor skills are weak and she hates writing. Her weakness in handwriting and organizing her thoughts cause her to avoid writing and she often turns in incomplete work. Sara needs extra time to allow her to stop and think, organize her thoughts and narrow them down in to a manageable amount of information to write down. She also needs extra time to allow her to slowly and carefully write the words on paper.
  • Alex has been diagnosed with a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD). One of the main components of NLD is a lack of organizational skills. This means that Alex has a hard time putting all the pieces of information he gathers together to allow him to come to a meaningful conclusion. Breaking down instructions in order to follow them is a challenge, so Alex often just guesses at what he is supposed to do based on pictures or looking at what other are doing. Alex needs extra time to circle and highlight the important information in texts and worksheets so that he can focus on the most important part. He also needs extra time to contemplate the information and come to meaningful conclusion.

Each of these children struggle with processing speed, but the cause of their struggle is different. Weak fine motor skills and/or organizational skills are common factors in processing speed issues. While for many students the fine motor skills are a chief cause of frustration, I am beginning to consider weak executive functioning skills a key factor affecting processing speed.

Young children can work to improve their fine motor skills and therefore increase their processing speed, if that is the main cause of the processing speed deficit. However, for older children and those whose processing speed deficit is cognitively based, building executive functioning skills will be the best intervention for increasing processing speed.

I invite you to take our free executive functioning quiz and find out what skills are strong, and which are weak for you or your child.

Here is a list of Executive Functioning skills:


starting work


stopping off-task behavior


moving from one activity to another

Working Memory

remembering information for immediate use


setting goals and the steps to accomplish them

Organizing Materials

tracking items in work spaces

Time Management

allotting appropriate time for each task


judging the quality and pace of work

Emotional Control

regulating stress and distractibility

For many of the students I see with a processing speed issue, the executive functioning skills of initiate, shift, plan, time management and emotional control are difficult for them. I consider the ability to shift as the most important skill to develop. If a child gets stuck on an idea and can’t let go of it to consider a new idea, nothing can change. If a child gets frustrated and shuts down he can’t find solution to the problem, rather he becomes overwhelmed and defeated. Many students with this profile need to learn new ways to approach tasks so that they can hone in on the most important part. To help them save time and therefore speed up, these students can learn new organization skills that will help them start and finish work in a timely manner. However, they need to be flexible thinkers to do this.

For students with this profile I suggest they build flexible thinking skills first and then organization skills. You can read my blog article on building flexible thinking skills to learn more. I also created The Flexible Thinking Workbook to help students build these very important skills.

Posted in Executive Functioning, Learning, Learning differences, Processing Speed, Thinking Skills, Visual Processing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick testing taking tip for the “Rusher”


You know the “Rusher”. This is the student who rushes through his or her work without reading the full directions, makes careless errors, only writes down part of the homework assignment and thinks checking work is the worst offense in the world.

Here is a question from a mother whose son is a Rusher.

Q: How can I help my son who has been working very hard and who has brought up his homework and quiz scores but still brings home very poor grades on his tests. We have been working on his executive functioning skills, and they have improved. However, when he takes a test he rushes through and makes many mistakes.

It is wonderful that this student has brought up his weekly grades and has improved his executive functioning skills. This is a huge achievement. There is one more important skill he still needs to learn, namely slowing down while he takes the test.

My recommendation for Rushers is that they be taught to underline the key concepts in the questions on the test. In other words, if the test says: “Name two actions that prove your point about why the main character is innocent”. Your son would underline 2 actions, prove point, is innocent. These are the main points that need to be included in his answer.  Here is another example:

math directions

 I find that many students who rush through tests often don’t read the questions carefully. Teaching your son to slow down and read the question, underline the key concepts, and then make sure that those key concepts are included in his answer may help improve his test performance. In the example above, many Rushers would miss the direction asking them to write how many zeros are in the answer. Often times it is the little things that they miss that cause the Rusher to give incomplete answers and lose points on a test. These points add up and suddenly they have a low score even though they knew the material.

You can check out Study Skills Made Easy by L. Davis, M.Ed. and S. Sirotowitz, M.Ed. as well as, The Executive Functioning Workbook by K. Fried, PsyD. and M. Mullin, Ph.D. for more in depth study strategies

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Do visual learners have more difficulty with language organization than verbal learners?

imaging girl

Visual-spatial learners think in images. Verbal learners think primarily in words. Visual learners see the whole picture all at once allowing them to see things from many perspectives. Verbal learners learn step by step and have a tendency towards analytical thinking. These two types of learning may also impact a child’s organization of language. 

What do I mean by language organization? I am referring to the executive functioning skill of organizing your thoughts, attaching those thoughts to words and sharing those words with others so that they can understand your idea. Therefore when I am talking about language organization I am referring to the relationship between thought and language. 

What is the relationship between language and thought? Aristotle taught that speech symbolized thought. Chomsky believed that the language environment is a key component to language development. Piaget and Vygotsky believed that a complex interaction exists between the child and the environment that is influenced by the child’s social and cognitive development. They believed that as children develop language they are building a symbol system that helps them understand the world. However, while Piaget believed that cognitive development leads to language development, Vygotsky believed language drives the development of thought.

How do these theories of language development impact students who are either visual or verbal learners? Do verbal and visual learners actually have different thought processes? If you think in pictures rather than thinking in words, are your thoughts different? Most importantly, how do these two learning styles affect a child’s ability to express himself both verbally and on written assignments?

Our educational system has embraced a verbal communication curriculum. Most teachers give verbal directions, assign books that are written in text (words) and they require most assessments be completed in written text (words). Take a minute to consider this. If you think in words, then both your input of information from the teacher and books, along with your output (what you write down) are all in your native processing mode (verbal).  If, however, your learning style is visual, when the teacher is talking or you are reading, you must translate those verbal words into pictures; and in order to write an essay you must translate your visual images into words and sequence them to communicate your ideas.

See the chart below to get a better understanding of how visual and verbal (auditory sequential) learners differ.


 Visual-Spatial Learner Chart

Copyright held by Linda Kreger Silverman, August, 1999. From Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner. Denver: DeLeon Publishing. This chart may be reproduced.

The Auditory-Sequential Learner
   The Visual-Spatial Learner
·      Thinks primarily in words
·      Thinks primarily in images
·      Has auditory strengths
·      Has visual strengths
·      Relates well to time
·      Relates well to space
·      Is a step-by-step learner
·      Is a whole-part learner
·      Learns by trial and error
·      Learns concepts all at once
·      Progresses sequentially from easy to difficult material
·      Learns complex concepts easily; Struggles with easy skills
·      Is an analytical thinker
·      Is a good synthesizer
·      Attends well to details
·      Sees the big picture; may miss details
·      Follows oral directions well
·      Reads maps well
·      Does well at arithmetic
·      Is better at math reasoning than computation
·      Learns phonics easily
·      Learns whole words easily
·      Can sound out spelling words
·      Must visualize words to spell them
·      Can write quickly and neatly
·      Much better at keyboarding than handwriting
·      Is well organized
·      Creates unique methods of organization
·      Can show steps of work easily
·      Arrives at correct solutions intuitively
·      Excels at rote memorization
·      Learns best by seeing relationships
·      Has good auditory short-term memory
·      Has good long-term visual memory
·      May need some repetition to reinforce learning
·      Learns concepts permanently; does not learn by drill and repetition
·      Learns well from instructions
·      Develops own methods of problem solving
·      Learns in spite of emotional reactions
·      Is very sensitive to teachers’ attitudes
·      Is comfortable with one right answer
·      Generates unusual solutions to problems
·      Develops fairly evenly
·      Develops quite asynchronously (unevenly)
·      Usually maintains high grades
·      May have very uneven grades
·      Enjoys algebra and chemistry
·      Enjoys geometry and physics
·      Masters other languages in classes
·      Masters other languages through immersion
·      Is academically talented
·      Is creatively, technologically, mechanically, emotionally or spiritually gifted
·      Is an early bloomer
·      Is a late bloomer

Clearly, verbal learners have an easier time in an educational environment built on verbal communication. The issue of language organization, as I’m referring to it, involves the executive functioning skills of organizing and sequencing thoughts. In the chart above, the auditory learner’s skill set assumes that there are no other learning deficits, especially any deficits with executive functioning skills. There are verbal learners who experience difficulty with organization, and therefore may have difficulty with organizing complex verbal language.

The students who are highly visual-spatial learners will need exceptional executive functioning skills to enable them to break down and sequence their ideas in a timely manner. The visual-spatial learner has to both translate pictures to words and sequence words into meaningful sentences, paragraphs and essays.

There is a relationship between visual learners and learning differences such as dyslexia, nonverbal learning disability, attention issues and language processing disorders. Looking at the chart above, you can see how language-based assessments will be more challenging for a visual learner than a verbal learner.


When creating strategies for visual learners it is important for parents and teachers to understand that students with a visual-spatial learning style may take longer than other students to process new verbal information. When you consider the fact that they are translating words to images when taking in new information and translating images to words to share their ideas, it becomes easier to understand why the students need extra time in the classroom. In addition to extra time, teachers can consider ways in which they can modify or enhance their lessons with visual information. When teachers present visual information to the classroom the visual learners will quickly absorb it, while the verbal learners will be busy translating those images into words. Any form of visual support will be helpful to the visual learner. Here are some additional ideas a teacher can incorporate to help students learn better in the classroom.

  •  Before a lecture, provide students with a general outline of the material to be covered.
  •  Write directions with more than two steps on the board.
  • Use flip boards, photos, diagrams, laminated pictures, power point presentations, charts, maps, movies, filmstrips, timelines, mnemonics.
  • Provide access to computer programs that come with your textbook to provide greater visual exposure and practice.
  • Use the computer in the classroom to construct mind maps or webbing of the material.
  • Use concepts maps with key points, boxes, circles, and arrows showing the connections of information. Webbing provides the connections that visual learners must have.
  •  When doing questions and answers in the classroom, allow adequate wait time before calling on students.


It is important to remember that we need diversity in our thinking styles. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses that helped create who we are as human beings. As students grow and develop it is important for them to understand themselves, how their brain works and how valuable their type of thinking is.

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How Does A Low Processing Speed Score Affect My Child?


Question: My 16 year old son has just had an evaluation and he was given the following scores on the test: 
 PRI 132, VCI 130, WMI 110, PSI 76
. I don’t understand how exactly this affects him, though I do notice he is a bit slow on some activities. How does the combination of the factors above translate into his abilities?

My son also can be difficult to deal with. He often does not like to work on any work assigned to him (It’s difficult to get him to do homework), which causes him to sometimes not hand in homework assignments. He is also quite disorganized, and procrastinates often. Socially, he is withdrawn and shy, even with people he knows.  He does have a few friends, and he can be lively around them. I wouldn’t say he has any deficits in communication, as he can still communicate well, and I think he just does not prefer to communicate or is shy.

 Answer: Your child has developed a strong vocabulary and is easily able to explain his understanding of socially based concepts. Your child’ ability to quickly and efficiently process auditory information, especially verbal information, is excellent. His ability to perform visual spatial problem solving is also very strong.

However, while your child demonstrates well-developed cognitive skills his ability to process information at the level his reasoning skills suggest is compromised by several factors present in testing. First, your child’s ability to read and synthesize material in a timely manner may be affected by his weakness in visual-discrimination and processing speed. His weak processing speed impacts his ability to process visual information as quickly as his strong cognitive skills suggest. This can impact his ability to read, write and perform math problem quickly.

Taken together, the significant discrepancy  between your child’ Verbal Comprehension and his Processing Speed Indexes; along with the differences between Perceptual Organization and Working Memory Indexes and Processing Speed Index, reflects a need for extended time on academic tasks and tests. Therefore, it is recommended that your child be granted extended time on all assignments and tests, including standardized testing such as the SAT and ACT. Furthermore, Your child’s current profile confirms he has  a visual perceptual and visual motor processing deficit and accommodations are warranted to allow your child additional time, or a reduction in work on all academic tasks.

The issue of your son’s lack of desire to communicate could be due to many reasons. There is a great book out called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking 
by Susan Cain. This might be a good book for you to read to determine if your son is an introvert, which may explain his lack of interaction with people around him.

The issue of his disorganization and difficulty completing homework may be due to weak executive functioning skills. You can learn more about executive functioning at


• It is recommended that the results of his evaluation be shared with your child so he may understand his profile of strengths and weaknesses and can adjust his learning and study strategies accordingly.

• Based upon your child’s status as a student with a Learning Disability, he should be provided the following accommodations:

  • Extra time on tests (at least 50%)
  • Extended time (at least 50%) on all standardized tests including ACT, SAT and AP tests

Improve your child’s Working Memory, Attention and Executive Functioning Skills

The CogMed program is recommended to build your child’s working memory, which will help support his attention processing.

• A program designed to improve your child’s executive functioning skills (such as the K & M Center Executive Functioning Program) is recommended.

• A program designed to increase your child’s cognitive flexibility is also recommended (such as the K & M Flexible Thinking Program)

• Teach your child to use self-talk to organize his learning and performance strategies and to focus his attention on tasks

• Build strategies to help your child analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment

• Break down tasks and follows the order checking work along the way

• Teach strategies to increase engagement


• Encourage pre-writing activities such as brainstorming and outlining

• Use of Inspiration ( and Dragon Speak Naturally ( to help him organize his thoughts and share them.

• Re-Train the Brain ( can help fine motor skills to make writing easier.

Visual-Perceptual Strategies

• Use graphic organizers to depict information visually and increase his retention of ideas.

• Note-taking techniques that will present and summarize heard information visually.

• Practice exercises to sharpen his ability to attend to visual detail and to express similarities and differences between images.

Processing Speed

• Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half

• Provide extra time for your child to complete in-class assignments

• Train your child in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.

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How to help your child succeed in middle school

Communication is the key to success in Middle School

Communication is the key to success in Middle School

Last week Mrs. Smith came to visit me and discuss her daughter, Sarah. Sarah is in seventh grade and has been struggling all year. Last year in sixth grade Sarah earned all A’s and B”s on her report card.  Sarah has a history of doing well in school. At the beginning of seventh grade Sarah began experiencing difficulty in a class or two, but she promised her mother that she would work harder and handle it. All year long Sarah promised her mother that she would do better. However, Sarah was not able to take control of her schoolwork and pull up her grades.

Teacher comments on Sarah’s report cards consistently stated that she was missing homework and doing poorly on tests. Sarah’s mother trusted her because Sarah had always done well in school. Mrs. Smith did not realize until too late that Sarah needed some academic support to help her to well in seventh-grade.

This story is important. The transition between elementary school and middle school can place an extraordinary load on a child’s organizational, planning and follow-through skills. Many students have not developed, or needed, executive functioning skills prior to middle school. The tragedy of this is when you have a strong student like Sarah who suddenly fails three classes.

It is important for parents to realize what they need to do to help their children succeed in middle school. I wish that Sarah’s mother had come to us in October or November of last year and we could have set up a plan to help her get her work done and turned in on time.

Communication is the key to success.

The communication needs to be between the teachers, the parents and the child. This sounds like a simple task, but as many middle school parents know it is not. If your child is at a school where teachers have an online homework program, that they actually keep up to date, then it is important for parents and students to check that online tool and make sure the child knows what needs to be done and when it needs to be turned in.

Many middle school teachers find it difficult to keep these online homework sites updated.  Without the online homework check it can become a challenge for parents to know what assignments their child has. So what can you do?

  •  Have a meeting with the teacher
  • Find a friend who is a good note taker and is willing to help update your child on what is due
  • Have your child take a picture of the assignments listed on the board
  •  Request that the school give you weekly updates on unfinished assignments and outstanding homework
  • Check in with your child every night, go through the notebook and planner to help them get organized.
  •  Create a homework calendar where weekly and monthly assignments are written down
  • Understand that you are teaching your child the steps to success and that this is a process that will take time.
  •  Don’t wait more than a month if your child begins to struggle in school
  • Ask for help and find a system that works for your family

Middle school is a very exciting and trying time as your child goes through developmental growth, both mentally and physically. It is a time when children require more independence, however they are not always ready for parents to step back completely. This is the time period where parents transition from teacher to coach, guiding their children to develop the skills that they need to succeed.

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Executive functioning skills: How To Get Your Child To Follow The Plan


imagesThe coach comes, plans are made, checklists are created with extensive “TO DOs” and then what?  Nothing!

Students with executive functioning deficits have difficulty planning, organizing and initiating projects and homework. A tutor or coach can help students fill in their planner and breakdown their assignments to make a weekly “TO DO” plan, but they can not make the student follow the plan once they leave. Creating the plan is one thing, following the plan is another.

Parents and coaches often tell me how frustrating it can be to create a fabulous plan for the student only to find that the student didn’t follow through. Building executive functioning skills and study strategies takes time and practice. Remember back to when your child was learning his multiplication tables? What did the teacher tell you? Learn the concept, then drill and practice, drill and practice, drill and practice! Learning executive functioning skills is no different! To develop an understanding of executive functioning skills, you must first set up goals and explain how the brain works. Once the student understands what is expected, it is time to start the drill and practice, drill and practice, drill and practice!

One of the challenges many parents face is that executive functioning skills become more of a challenge in middle school. Many children are developmentally ready to become more independent and separate from their parents in middle school.  However, this is a transitional phase towards independence and many students still need their parents to help them scaffold new skills.  The executive functioning skill set is new to many middle school students.

So, what is the best way to get students to follow plan, use checklists, turn in homework, and build their independence at the same time? Most parents and executive functioning coaches / tutors face this challenging question. To help children learn new skills, you have to go back to the theory of scaffolding. Scaffolding new ideas and skills is like building a high-rise. images-1First, you build the scaffolding on the outside the building to support the framework on the inside. The scaffolding stays up until the building is stable. At that point, the foundation is strong and the scaffolding can be taken down. This is what we need to be thinking about with children. We need to create the external structure–the scaffolding–and keep it in place until they have learned the skill. Once the skill is in place the scaffolding comes down.

Checklists, charts, study plans, apps for time management and check-in’s are all very effective scaffolding tools for students. However, we are looking for the external tools that the students can rely on to help them know what to do next and when to do it. It is important to remember that they still need reminders to check their checklists, planners and homework online. I have found that it is best if these reminders are automatic and not given by parents; rather, we use the student’s iPhone, iPad or other electronic device to create reminders and email alerts. There are many tools available now to alert a child to check his or her checklists.Unknown-1

At our center, we create an alert that shows up on the child’s phone, iPad, computer, etc. reminding the students to check their planner and update their study plan. They then have another alert half an hour before bedtime to check if everything has been done and put in their backpack. These alerts can be set to automatically alert the student every day, so they don’t depend on the student remembering to make a note. Once the students setup these alerts with the tutor/coach, it is time to involve the parents.

To help parents monitor their student’s progress, the student explains the plan to the parents. The student can then share their homework plan with their parents. Once this is done, it is updated automatically, allowing parents to use their phones or computers to confirm that their child is updating the study plan. We then ask the parents to set up alerts as well. The parents’ alerts are simple: 10 minutes after the student receives the alert, the parents receive an alert reminding them to check in with the student. We let students know that they will get their alert 20 minutes before bedtime, or whatever amount of time students and parents think is reasonable, and the parents will get an alert 10 minutes after the child’s alert. This allows the students to get started before the parent is alerted to make sure all work has been done for the evening.

Designing a plan is very important, and implementing the plan is critical. It is important to work with both students and parents to create a plan that can be followed up on daily basis. Our center often uses another system—daily emails—to help students develop a daily habit of checking, updating, and completing their study plan. The academic coach can send out a checklist that the student completes each night. The student’s responses are saved and sent to the academic coach where they can be easily compiled. This provides an additional reminder and allows the academic coach to gauge the student’s progress.

In creating a system like this, it is important to remember that success will not be 100% immediately. The entire support team—the academic coach, the parents and the student–must create an achievable goal. Success breeds success. Find out what percentage of homework is being done and use that as your baseline to create a new goal. For example, if the student turns in 50% of the homework now, the new goal would be to turn in 70%. Recognition of success is important for the child to see that he or she is making progress and that this hard work is worth it.images-2

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Find your Executive Functioning Strengths and Weakness with our FREE QUIZ


Executive Functioning refers to the skills that help you organize, plan and execute a task. If you would like to discover your own executive functioning strengths and weaknesses, take our free quiz and then read below to see how each skill affects your thinking.

Click here to take the quiz: EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING QUIZ. When you are done write your results on the chart below.

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Find more executive functioning strategies in the TLC Executive Functioning Workbook.

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