How does processing speed affect learning?

Processing Speed

What most parents ask me is,” What does this mean for my child? Why is this important?”

There is now an overload of information given out. Definitions and diagnoses are easy to find, the hard part is figuring out how this affects the everyday life of your child and what you can do to help.

The thing about processing speed is that there are actually two kinds. To understand how it is affecting your child you need to know what is going on with your child.

One type of processing speed is visual processing speed, this is the most common kind referred to. Visual processing speed is how fast your child can look at and process information on a task that does not take any more thinking than noticing the differences or sameness in the objects shown. This type of processing speed issue may be helped by vision therapy, or larger print. Extra time on tests is important so the child has time to correctly “see” the information and not make careless errors due to misreading the information. When children also have difficulty with fine motor skills (writing) this becomes a visual-motor intregration weakness.

Another type of processing speed is cognitive processing speed. This is how long it takes a child to process (take in information, think about it and then give an answer). This type of child also needs extra time on tests, not “see” the information but to “think” about the answer.

While both processing speed types need extra time on tests to enable them perform at their potential, the reason behind the extra time is very different. This means if you are trying to help build the area of weakness, understanding the cause helps determine the best intervention.

Processing Speed

http://www.etfo.ca/Multimedia/Webcasts/SpecialEducation/Pages/Processing%20Speed.aspx

Processing Speed is one of the measures of cognitive efficiency or cognitive proficiency. It involves the ability to automatically and fluently perform relatively easy or over-learned cognitive tasks, especially when high mental efficiency is required. That is, for simple tasks requiring attention and focused concentration. It relates to the ability to process information automatically and therefore speedily, without intentional thinking through.

A student with processing speed needs has difficulty in performing simple cognitive tasks fluently and automatically, especially when mental efficiency in focusing concentration is required.

  • Students with processing speed needs may take more time to:
  • recognize simple visual patterns and in visual scanning tasks
  • take tests that require simple decision making
  • perform basic arithmetic calculations and in manipulating numbers, since these operations are not automatic for them
  • perform reasoning tasks under time pressure
  • make decisions that require understanding of the material presented
  • read silently for comprehension
  • copy words or sentences correctly or to formulate and write passages

About Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

I am the director of the K & M Center in Santa Monica, CA. Our goal is to help children reach their academic potential. We specialize in creating individualize learning programs so each of our students can do better in school and life.
This entry was posted in Learning, Processing Speed, Visual Processing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to How does processing speed affect learning?

  1. Teresa Boggs says:

    My son was evaluated recently he had the following scores:
    VC 124, PR 94, WM 80, PS 75
    Block 5,Sim 12, DS 5, PC 12, CODING 5, VOC 15, LETTER/NUM SEQ 8, MAT 10, COMP 15.
    The school stated that he did not qualify for services since he did not have a learning disability. His IQ was normal. He failed algebraII last year and had an F last nine weeks. He has severed with depression and was hospitalised last year. He had trouble going to sleep then he was able to go to sleep at night but falls asleep at school. His sleep study showed that he snores so loud that he wakes himself up. They put him on Vyvanase to keep him awake. He said that he is able to read again finally. He said his mind would not let him focus enough to read. He is also on Abilify and Prozaic and vitamin D for a deficiency. His writing is illegible. The examiner stated that it tooks him along time to put things down on paper and he continuously makes simple mistakes on math problems, like not bringing down all the numbers or bringing the negative sign, etc. He has all his other grades up to A and B. He is a 10th grader, yet he scores at the 12th grade level on the STAR reading test. I have read your posts, but I am still not sure what is the cause for his slow processing speed to determine what path to take.
    Teresa

    • Dealing with depression in children is very difficult. Please check with your doctor and listen to what she/he advises. I am going to discuss the educational issues you present, but anxiety, depression and attention issues can have a big impact on learning which only his therapist and you can determine.

      Right away I am struck by the large discrepancy between his index scores. He has a 49 point difference between his VCI and his PSI, and a 19 point difference between his VCI and his POI. This would indicate that his Full Scale IQ doesn’t present a true picture of his overall cognitive potential. His areas of weakness include working memory and processing speed. It would seem to me he qualifies for extra time on tests. I would go back and ask for that. He should also qualify for technological assistance with the use of a computer for note taking and writing assignments.

      The working memory could have been impacted by the lack of sleep. If he is sleeping better and his depression is under control, it might be good to re-assess both of low scores and see if they have improved. Working memory is important for many things including paying attention to details. It sounds like the issues he is having in math are detail orientated, so both working memory and visual attention could be contributing to his difficulties. Building working memory skills along with visual memory, visual motor and visual attention skills will help him in math.

      • Teresa Boggs says:

        My son’s evaluation was just completed two weeks ago. Do I need to try and find out exactly what is causing his poor working memory and slow processing speed or will the treatment or intervention be the same regardless. If I need to find out, where would I need to take him. What I have found online suggest auditory processing disorder or Sluggish Cognitive Tempo ADD, however, with his issues being seen in written expression, I wonder if that rules out the auditory processing disorder. What can I do or use to work on his visual memory, visual motor and visual attention skills. I can not express my appreciation for the valuable information you have provided. I have been sick from the lack of support I was provided with from his school. Is there a term to discribe the issue he has, so I can try to get him an IEP.
        Thank you,
        Teresa Boggs

      • I have written a few articles that may point you in the right direction. For finding help with processing speed read:
        http://bitsofwisdomforall.com/2011/10/29/finding-the-right-help-to-build-processing-speed/

        Working memory and executive functioning are closely related, so building executive functioning skills can help build working memory. http://bitsofwisdomforall.com/2012/02/05/metacognition-helps-build-self-regulation-and-executive-functioning-skills/. There is a great program called CogMed http://www.cogmed.com that is designed to build working memory skills.

        I hope this helps you!

  2. Teresa Boggs says:

    His therapist does not feel that his depression is the cause since my son is not currently having symptoms or at least not severe enough to cause any issues.
    Thanks,
    Teresa

  3. Raniece Sutton says:

    That type of scatter on intelligence testing as well as the weakness in math related skills can also be indicative of a nonverbal learning disability. Unfortunately this is generally not a category for special services support. I would certainly think he would qualify for a 504 general education accommodation plan. These accommodations could in clude extended time, assistive technology and other accommodations for significant working memory and processing speed deficits. I agree there is no way his full scale IQ is a true indicator of his overall functioning abilities. Good luck and don’t be afraid to advocate for your child. It’s ok to think that as far as you’re concerned he is the most important child at that school.

  4. Kay says:

    I took an IQ test when I was in school and they said my IQ was normal but I had slow processing speed and I’ve been noticing that it’s right and I am a little bit slower when it comes to simple things, I just wanted to point out that the one huge thing that it’s been affecting me in lately is my conversational skills and that it’s really hard for me to find the right things to say at the quickest of times I’m talking to someone, so it’s like I know what to say but not at that moment so I think fast and that usually doesn’t turn out well, I know I have cognitive processing speed problems and I was wanting to know if there is anything that could help my processing speed?

  5. Mairi says:

    Hello,
    Firstly, I would like to say it is such a relief to find a website with so much information…
    My 8 year old daughter has just undergone the Wisc-iv test as the teacher in the school’s Gifted program was struggling to get her to do anything (This class is less structured and they are supposed to research a topic, write it up and then present to the group to promote out of teh box independent thinking). She seems to be doing well in her normal class and delivering work on time. She scored VCI126, PRI 104, WMI 113 and PSI100. Due to the difference in Processing Speed we need to now see an OT and a Paediatrician. Attentive Disorder ( I believe part of ADHD) has been mentioned, but does slower processing speed really always mean ADD/ ADHD? Looking at your website, you don’t seem to link the two automatically.
    She is very easily distracted and likes to talk a lot, yet she regurlarly sits with her list of homework and finishes it all without any help or persuading from us. She does have awful handwriting, but can write nicely when she slows down. I have also read articles where drugs are recommended to help with processing speed, but we would rather look for other therapies. We live in Perth, Western Australia.
    Many thanks,
    Mairi

    • I do not think that all students with processing speed issues have attention deficit, but there are many students with ADHD that do have processing speed issues. If attention deficit is the reason for the processing speed issue then ADHD medication can help remediate the issue.

      Another aspect to consider is executive functioning. Like processing speed, not all students with executive functioning disorder have ADHD, but almost all children with ADHD have weak executive functioning skills. Like students with ADHD, children with slow processing speed need to exert more “pull” from their working memory and therefore “pull” from their attention and executive functioning capacity. This process means that these children have to work harder to attend when listening and writing at the same time. Here is an edited article that addresses ADHD and executive functioning; I think much of the information is relevant for students with processing speed issues.

      Executive Function…”What is this anyway?”
      By Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S.
      Read the fully article at http://www.chrisdendy.com/executive.htm

      Five years ago, most parents and teachers of students with ADHD didn’t have a clue that a child’s academic success was contingent upon strong executive skills. However, today’s savvy parents and educators realize that deficits in critical cognitive skills known as executive functions (EF) are slower to mature in many children with ADHD.

      Viewing the Impact of Executive Function Deficits in Two Categories. I’ve found it helpful to view the practical impact of executive function deficits in two general categories:
      1. Specific academic challenges like writing essaysremembering what is read (comprehension), memorizing information, and completing complex math
      2. essential related skills like organization, getting started on and finishing work, remembering tasks and due dates, completing homework and long-term projects in a timely manner, processing information in an efficient and timely manner, having good time awareness and management, using self-talk to direct behavior, using weekly reports, and planning ahead for the future.

      Since these common academic challenges such as a writing disability are easily recognizable, teachers are more willing to provide necessary accommodations. However, educators may be reluctant to provide needed supports for essential related executive skill deficits such as disorganization, getting started, and failure to submit completed homework in a timely manner. Unfortunately, on the surface, failure to perform these tasks looks like a simple choice was made to be lazy and not complete the work. However, that’s not the case; a neurological deficit makes these tasks extremely difficult for students with attention deficits. Consequently, parents and teachers must always keep in mind that, first and foremost, this is a neurological problem, not laziness.

      Favorite School Success Strategies

      Over the years I have collected several favorite teaching strategies and accommodations that work well for students with ADD or ADHD. So here are just a few of my favorite tips:
      General Teaching Strategies
      • Make the learning process as concrete and visual as possible.

      Written expression
      o Dictate information to a “scribe” or parents.

      o Use graphic organizers to provide visual prompts.

      o Use Post-it notes to brainstorm essay ideas.

      • Math

      o
      Use paired learning (teacher explains problem, students make up their own examples, swap problems, and discuss and correct answers).

      o Use a peer tutor.
      (After barely passing high school and college algebra, my son made an A in calculus plus had a 100 average on tests when the professor used this strategy. At the same time, he also tutored a friend.)


      • Memory

      o Use mnemonics (memory tricks), such as acronyms or acrostics, e.g., HOMES to remember names of the Great Lakes, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.

      Use “visual posting” of key information on strips of poster board.

      • Consider “Times Alive”, an educational CD, to assist with memorizing multiplication tables.

      Modify teaching methods.
      o
      Use an overhead projector to demonstrate how to write an essay. (Parents may simply write on paper or a computer to model this skill.)

      o Use color to highlight important information.
      o Use graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts.

      Modify assignments-reduce written work.
      o
      Shorten assignments.

      o Check time spent on homework, and reduce it if appropriate (when total homework takes longer than roughly 10 minutes per grade level as recommended in a PTA/NEA Policy, e.g. 7th grader = 70 minutes).

      Modify testing and grading.
      o
      Give extended time on tests.

      o Divide long-term projects into segments with separate due dates and grades.
      o
      Average two grades on essays- one for content and one for grammar.

      Modify level of support and supervision.

      o Appoint “row captains” to check to see that homework assignments are written down and later turned in to the teacher.

      o Increase the amount of supervision and monitoring for these students, if they’re struggling.

      Use technology.
      o
      Use a computer as often as possible.

      o Use software to help teach skills.

      In Closing. Clearly school is often very difficult for students with attention deficits. However, when executive function deficits are also present, the accompanying problems are often overwhelming to the student and family. Unfortunately, some parents and teachers have had little awareness or sympathy for the challenges presented by these combined deficits. Hopefully, teachers and parents now realize that attention deficit disorder is often a very complex condition! It’s much more than just a simple case of hyperactivity. When deficits in executive function and related learning problems are present, students can try their very best and still not succeed in school!!

      So what should parents and teachers do with this new information?

      1) Identify the student’s specific learning problems (e.g. written expression or math)

      2) Identify their executive function deficits (e.g. working memory, disorganization, forgetfulness, or impaired sense of time)

      3) provide accommodations in both areas!
      Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits, 2nd ed was the source for this article. In addition see the original CHADD article for references including Barkley, Brown, Dendy, Deshler, Levine, Mayes and Calhoun.

  6. Lula says:

    My son and I have some of the same issues as yours and we have Sensory Processing Disorder and ADD. It’s amazing how much impact the SPD has on everything we do, including the handwriting, our ability to organize our thoughts, praxis (planning what we’re about to do and how we’re going to do it, etc), copying things down, etc., careless mitakes, etc.

    Dyspraxia is a portion of SPD, and under that umbrella is Developmental Coordination Delay. DCD can impact those fine motor skills, thus poor handwriting (which is why I love typing…lol). Occupational therapy seems to have the most potential to help with that sort of thing, because a) because it’s not a medication that will suppress a symptom, but a natural exercise approach that can enhance his actual development, b) because they can give you information about the impact foods, lighting, and other things have on him, so that you can understand his conditions better and how to make him more comfortable and help him thrive better, c) occupational therapists can work with him to give him tools and vices to use when completing different things, like highlighting things to make certain things stand out or to separate them.

    Having slow visual processing, the school should be working with your son to make sure that the materials used for schoolwork/tests are not interfering with his visual processing. It can be extremely overwhelming trying to complete a scantron test when you have slow visual processing, believe me! The same is so with certain other things. Using materials that are simplistic to the eye will help, not interfere with, his learning. Plus, it’ll help them conduct more accurate testing on his knowledge. If the test’s presentation, in itself, is overstimulating or overwhelming to the student, he faces an obstacle every time he looks at it. This can be eliminated, which would probably help him process what he’s looking at much faster. It works for me and my son.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I don’t take Vyvanse, or anything, but now that I know about these other options, I’d rather get my son help that he may permanently benefit from before trying a medication.
    My son just started occupational therapy and I’m looking into having him seen by a visual processing therapist and speech therapist for the other things.

    If you take him to a neuropsychiatrist, he or she can test him for SPD to see if there are additional contributing factors. When my son was diagnosed with ADD, a year ago, the psychiatrist he went to then didn’t mention anything about SPD or dyspraxia to us. This time, we went somewhere else and the testing he had, recently, took about 8 hours altogether and included auditory/vestibular processing, ADD, visual processing, taste questionnaires and other questionnaires, etc.

    If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend ‘Out of Sync Child.’ That was a HUGE eye-opener for me and I understand all of the problems we’ve been experiencing so much better, now. I ordered mine on Amazon, but I’m sure you can find it pretty much anywhere. It explains SPD and Dyspraxia in great detail. It also compares between those conditions and others similar to or often confused with that. Some people who have been diagnosed with mild autism or ADD have actually got SPD. I hope this helps!

  7. Rose says:

    Do all of the above apply to a low PSI or a high one? Our dd scored 136 PSI but only 83 WMI. We have been told to see a neuro as the difference is unusual and significant. I don’t understand why it is significant and what could be causing it. Is the problem the superior PSI or the low average WMI. Her VCI was 100 and PRI 112. Very confused about it all.

    • When there is a significant difference in Index scores it can indicate an issue which may challenge a student. In your daughter’s case she has a very quick processing speed. The processing speed index on the WISC only measures how fast students are on visual-motor pencil-paper tasks that do not require thinking skills. They measure how quickly students can identify alike objects and write symbols. When performing math tasks, or writing an essay, the student needs to write and think about the math concept or essay topic. Sometimes when students have a profile like your daughter’s they tend to do things quickly (as that is their strength) but not take time to think about what they are doing (which would be using working memory, a relative weakness). This profile causes students to make careless errors, answer incompletely, and generally under-perform. If your daughter is struggling in school it may be that she needs to learn how to slow down and take time to think before she answers questions. This can be challenge for students. The “STOP, THINK, PLAN, DO, CHECK” mantra may be helpful.

      • Debbie says:

        My dd (age 8) and we are facing a similar issue to Rose’s: off the charts (high) PSI and low WMI. Despite these results on multiple tests, the local school chose to view her issue as ADD, could not complete an IEP, and simply began to let her do whatever she wanted in class (which was primarily her own creative art projects) in response to our not choosing to medicate. Now she is homeschooled. We are using Earobics which was recommended to help with the low WMI (and a co-diagnosis of CPAD); a lot of “Stop, Breath, Refocus” reminders and multiple learning approaches to new material (eg a multiplication unit included videos, manipulatives, songs, Math U See and Life of Fred) while we look for a more appropriate situation.

        We were discussing Montessori as an option. I described what I knew of the approach to her–students create their own plans in coordination with teachers, work independently much of the time and can do a lot of hands-on work– and she thought that it sounded like a learning environment she would do well in. Any other suggestions?

      • It sounds like you have made some informed decisions regarding your daughter’s school environment. In addition to aerobics other programs I recommend include:Cogmed Working Memory Program, metacognitive strategies, and executive functioning skills. Another program is Heart Math, which teaches children to use their breath to slow them down and help focus.

  8. Kate says:

    Wow what an informative site!! Thank you. We have been on a rollercoaster ride with our son for a few years now but are just starting to get answers. Unfortunately it has taken him becoming depressed and anxious before the school has taken notice. This may partly be from him having had a Stanford-Binet assessment carried out at age 8 which put him in the FIQ 98th percentile because I was concerned. Although his working memory was in the 87th percentile and was noted as a relative weakness. Now at age 14 he has had the WISC IV assessment VIQ >142, PRIQ 117, WM 107 (digit span 11, letter-number 12), PS 91 (coding 7, symbol search 10). Unfortunately he didn’t wear his glasses for the assessment and has both eyes focussing at 1 1/2m difference with 20/20 vision, according to a developmental optometrist, which would have impacted the ps. The psychologist is convinced he has ADD and we are heading down that path. I am concerned that there is more to it and am not sure what other assessments would be required to work it out. He did have major cardiac surgery at a couple of weeks of age and I have just discovered that heart babies suffer similar problems to prem babies. I am not sure what to do next. He is receiving treatment for his anxiety and I will be taking his assessment to the school but should I look for some more conclusive assessments?

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D. says:

      I am glad you are starting to get answers for your son. While there are learning profiles, very child is different. Your son is very bright and a creative, visual thinker based on his VCI and PRI scores. While his working memory and processing speed indexes are average, they are significantly below his potential. You can investigate Cogmed to help his working memory skills. ADHD does affect working memory and can affect processing speed so investigating that path is wise. If he was not wearing his glasses for the processing speed subtests, it might be worth having those subtests re-assesseed with his glasses on to see if the scores are valid. Another great program you can do at home is Heartmath which helps with stress relief. If motor skills are slowing down his processing speed I recommend Re-train the Brain.

  9. Jane says:

    Hello,

    My son has been in the gifted program at his public school since first grade. He is now in seventh grade. We moved him from a public school to a private school at the beginning of seventh grade. He was excited to go. When he was tested in first grade, he was given the wppsi-3. Below are his scaled and composite scores:

    Test. Scale. Composite
    Verbal. 48. 137
    Performance. 42 125
    Pr. Spd 8 68
    Full. 98 128

    He has never had to work hard at anything academically related. He has much more homework at his new school. He was placed in an advanced math class and at semester moved back to general math because he was failing. His biggest problem was that he didn’t show his work and didn’t turn in homework. He is now failing general math because he doesn’t show his work. In almost all his classes, he does not turn in homework. He does it at home, but it is a struggle and will sometimes take hours. He takes “breaks” when doing his homework because he cannot stay focused. He excels in debate, is not an athlete, and is very musically inclined. It seems he does the minimum to get by.

    He tells us that he is bullied at school, but we can find no evidence of it and he can never produce any names. He tells us he is stupid. He becomes very easily frustrated and has at times refused to go to school. He also becomes very angry very easily. He takes melatonin at night to help him sleep. He was recently diagnosed with ADD (inattentive type) and Gifted with anxiety. He is currently taking Focalin for the ADD.

    I’m not really sure he has the ADD after researching the impact of processing speed on academics. I don’t want him on medication he does not need.

    Any insight you would be able to provide into this situation would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D. says:

      Given your son’s processing speed deficit, I hope he has extra time on tests and that he is allowed to use the computer in the classroom. I would see if you could get him identified as student with learning disabilities in the area of math fluency and writing fluency. Using a program like Dragon Speech to Text will help him with writing assignments. Using technology to help him with his processing speed issues will allow him to speed up his output. The Flexible Thinking Workbook is aimed at helping gifted students who always “just know” the answers learn to work out problems.

  10. neha says:

    Hello, i can’t express in words what a great help you r doing through your blog. I have been in dilemma from a year and reached no where till now.My son is 6 yro, and have diagnosed with PDDNOS. He was speech delayed till 4.5. At 5.5 he started using basic sentences. He has words but everything is jeopardized, he wants to form it up but gets confused in placing it right.He is now in 1st grade. He tends to be very slow in everything.Keeps forgetting things. His attention, concentration, memory, processing all seems low. I m just too worried what is the issue with him where to take. Went to Neuro he checked and said i will not say he is Autistic as he is very well behaved no odd issues but he said it can be AD for sure .. No meds are prescribed for now.He goes for language therapy only. In your views what can be good home softwares or programs or books for him to make him focus and remember better. Your guidance will be highly appreciated.

    Thanks!
    Neha

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