Finding the Right Intervention to Increase Processing Speed


Finding the right intervention to help your child increase his processing speed and writing skills is worth the effort. There are multiple issues to consider, including visual processing, fine motor skills, and language organization skills. When I think of the students that have high verbal skills and slow processing speed I often use the image of a funnel. The funnel is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Like sand flowing through a funnel, your child’s thoughts flow freely at the top of funnel, but need to consolidate and get in a linear form to get out the bottom of the funnel. Strong verbal skills provide a tremendous vocabulary that enriches the ability to communicate ideas. However, the struggle for the hand to form the letters on paper causes many students to write down only the basics of their idea, or to try to write the whole idea and never finish due to fatigue.

When children with high verbal skills and slow processing speed are required to take their ideas and push them through this funnel it becomes a laborious process. The funnel represents the process of taking the mental images and ideas and translating them into words on the page. It is the translation from the language center to the motor center that creates the difficulty. If you could look at the different parts of their brain, you would find that these children would most likely have highly developed language centers along with poorly developed motors sectors. Many teachers do not understand how difficult this is for a child.

An IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) with a 504 is a good idea to consider. When the WISC-IV Verbal Comprehension Index score is significantly different than the Processing Speed Index score students can benefit from extra time on tests. The difference between the Index scores indicates that the child is able to communicate ideas verbally, but that his visual-motor processing skills are slow. Therefore, this child needs extra time on visual-motor tasks to allow him to get his ideas down on paper. I would also ask for modifications on homework and in-class writing assignments, so that the student only has to do enough to show he has grasped the concepts. Allowing the student to dictate extra practice materials is another option.

 Finding the best professional help to build processing speed and writing skills is trickier. The types of professional services you can use are:

Occupational therapy to work on building the fine motor skills for writing.

    • The amount of effort it takes students to write makes the whole writing process laborious. The frustrating part for the students is that they have the ideas but it’s too much work to communicate them.
    •  I recommend the Retrain the Brain program along with Handwriting Without Tears.
    • An occupational therapist has additional tools that can be used to build the hand muscles needed for fluent writing.

Vision Therapy, if visual tracking is an issue.

Educational specialists, tutors or a speech and language therapist can help with organizing language and writing skills. The writing skills that a student with this profile needs to learn,  includes pre-writing skills to help him organize his ideas before he writes.

      •  In other words, we want to take the grand ideas that the student has and get them onto paper.
      • This process alone will alleviate a lot of stress on the student.
    •  Once the ideas are on paper, they can be numbered in the order the student wants to present them in his final paper.
    • You can use the format from my 5 paragraph essay worksheets and modify them for writing one paragraph. Once one paragraph has been mastered, you can start on two paragraphs. The goal is to get the ideas out so that the student can look at and work with his thoughts without becoming overwhelmed.

It is important to remember that when you are building new pathways in the brain, daily practice is necessary. This means to really build the fine motor skills and/or eye muscles you need to do the exercises daily. It will only take 5 to10 minutes of daily exercises for most students to develop increased productivity within six months.

I also think educating teachers is important so they can understand what your child is experiencing. Share any articles you like that explain the issue your child is having, along with the testing results, so the teacher realizes this is not an issue of lack of effort, but a real learning challenge. Your communication with the teacher will also allow her to become part of your team. Letting teachers know that you understand that your child is struggling and that you are actively working to get help for him, will allow the teacher to know she has your support and that you don’t expect her to do all the work alone. Building a successful educational team that works and communicates together is the best intervention.


  • I have a daughter that was born at 23 weeks and had an IVH and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She just had her new IEP meeting (she is 12 and in 5th grade going into 6th grade). She was classified from CD (cognitive disability ) to OHI. So since she had perceptual reasoning scores higher than the rest they put her into the category. She has the delay still . Her processing speed puts her about 3 grade levels behind the other kids in math, reading comprehension and science/social studies. Everything is really modified for her. It took her 6 hours to complete her OAA’s in reading. I need a plan at home to get her processing speed up to where it should be (if possible) and to have a teaching plan to modify for her.

    • I do suggest OT to help build her processing speed. You have read my post on processing speed so you know the main interventions I suggest. However, in her case there is the cerebral palsy that may be complicating her progress. I do have few students with this diagnose and they too have significant processing speed issues. Learning to be a touch typist, using speech to text software like Dragon Speech, having access to class notes, having extra time on tests and reduced work can all help. There are more technology tools coming out all the time that will help her. Continue to develop her fine motor skills, but also build her skills with the tools that can assist her. The school should be able to work with you to create modifications that address her processing speed deficit and allow her to demonstrate her cognitive protential.

  • Rachel

    Hi, I think some of the article appears missing ? It talks of Occupational Therapy for fine motor skills, Vision therapy for visual issues and then there are no further headings althoughorganisers are touched on – should there not be headings and discussions for Language and Organisational issues. Thank you.

    Once the Educational Psy has assessed low processing speed, who do you get help from to ascertain the cause of the low processing speed ?

    Thanks for your fantastic site and help.

    • You question is a good one:

      There are so many individual aspects to consider. One test alone cannot be used to make diagnoses. I suggest that you discuss this your evaluator. The person who did the testing should be able to look at the test results and break apart some of these issues to give more information.

      For a head start, here are some things to look for in the report:

      • Is there a difference between the Coding and Symbol Search scores? If Coding is low and Symbol Search is high, then most likely fine-motor skills are the problem. If both are low then you need to keep looking. If Symbol Search is low and Coding is high then the issue is with visual discrimination.
      • How is the child’s handwriting? If it is hard to form letters, stay anchored on the line, or the writing is very messy and takes a long time, then fine motor skills can be the problem.
      • If reading fluency is low, then discuss with the evaluator if any tracking tests were done. The WJ Visual Matching is an easy one to do, or see an eye doctor for an evaluation that includes eye tracking.
      • The Beery Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) breaks the visual skills from the motor skills to see if they are different.
      • If visual processing and fine motor skills are OK, then you can consider if slow cognitive processing is the issue. Does this child need more time to think on all tasks? Was it noted in the testing that the child took a long time to complete tasks, even when the task was not visual or motor?

      I have revised the post. There was no link for educational therapy, tutoring and speech and language, which is where the language organization skills can be worked on, so it wasn’t highlighted to look like a heading.

      I hope this helps!

  • Selena

    My son had the WPPSI-III and had:
    Verbal IQ (Superior) PR = 93
    Performance IQ (Average) PR = 73
    Full Scale IQ (High Average) PR = 84
    Processing Speed (Average) PR= 37
    I was told he would need to take longer at school work and to complete tasks.
    I am concerned about the low Processing speed, but they gave me no insights on how to help.
    Could you give me some insight into this? He is 7.

    • Here are a few suggestions from my Frustration Profile article. You can read the whole thing at

      Processing Speed

      Allow longer response time to:
      respond orally to questions in class
      complete seatwork assignments in class
      make decisions when offered a choice of activities
      Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half.
      Shorten assignments so they can be accomplished within the time allotted.
      Provide copies of notes

      Writing Skills

      Teach brainstorming, clustering and mind mapping skills.
      Teach editing skills.
      Allow the use of a computer.

      Fine-Motor skills

      Use Retrain the Brain to build fine motor skills.
      Use Handwriting without Tears to enhance letter formation.

  • danielle

    my son is 15yrs old. he was retested this year and he scored a 78 in processing speed I found the information here helpful but my son also has aspergers syndrome and i am having difficulties in finding information on how to help him. Autism creates its own set of difficulties and some of the things you would use to help an average child without Autism does not work for him. I am seriously struggling with the school. If there is any information you could give me, it would be greatly appreciated. thank you

    • I don’t have any details about your son, so please take what fits here and let the rest go. All students are individual learners and while we can group “types” of learners, I have learned that generalizations can be both helpful and wrong. I am assuming that the processing speed score you refer to was from the WISC, which means it was a visual-motor timed task that did not require any deep concept processing. The Processing Speed Index on the WISC can correlate to how quickly students write and how well they can look at something and write it down (copying from the board, standardized tests). Your son is 15 years old, so I would focus on building typing skills and getting him extra time on tests, if his Processing Speed is significantly below his other scores. Tools that help him organize his thoughts (graphic organizers or Inspiration) will help him be concise when he writes which decrease the amount of writing he needs to do. I hope this helps.

      • Una

        I am from South Africa.I have a twelve year old son that has slow processing and therefore writes slowing too.Whatever he does he does very well and is academically very strong but could not keep up in a mainstream school. He was on Ritalin for a year and a half then he started getting epileptic fits. We took him off this and had him home schooled as the schools wanted him on some concentration medication. His concentration is bad and he is tired as he does work at school and home .He is going to another school next year that does have abridging class.I have been to a see a medical doctor that wants to put him back on Ritalin. What should I do as really do not want these drugs as could precipitate another fit. He is finally off all medication and has not had a fit for 1 year. The other school will use computers etc. is there any other alternative for concentration.I have tried all omegas .

      • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

        I am not a medical doctor so I can’t speak to the medications. Non-medical intervention for attention is based on behavioral modification which requires the student metacognition skills.

        Metacognition is thinking about thinking, knowing “what we know” and “what we don’t know.” This means students take time to think about what needs to be done and how to do it. These students understand how the mind works and use this knowledge to help them. They take control over their learning process.

        Read my article on how Building Metacognition skills can help build Self-Regulation skills by helping the student focus well. Building Self-Regulation skills can then help build Executive Functioning skills, which will allow the student to plan and organize better.

  • Anne Quilter Goldstein

    Hello. Thank you very much for this site. I live in California, and have two sons (16 and 11) with Verbal Comp Index scores much more than 15 pts. (28 and 35 difference rrespectively). Since they are not failing, the school will not offer them 504 accomodations. If needed they’ll give extra time on tests, and the younger sons teachers will reduce i.e. math problems. Both of their verbal scores are in the high 90’s. The schools say their scores need to fall 2 SD’s below the mean before they are eligilble fpr any services.
    I am wondering if you know of anything written in the Ed Code regarding discrepancies between various indexes, vs a child needing to be in the lowest 2% to qualify.
    Thank you,

    • I am not familiar with the educational codes. I find it very unfortunate that more schools and The College Board are not allowing students with slow processing speed extra time. It used to be that having a 15 point difference between the verbal comprehension and the processing speed indexes was enough for schools and the College Board to grant time accommodations to students. However, lately I have seen students who have been denied extra time even though they had a large discrepancy on their scores. The new position seems to be that students must have a functional disability to be granted extra time on tests. What this means is that they have high potential, as your boys do, and also that they are scores on academic assessments such as the WJ demonstrate difficulty on time within a subject area. This would mean their reading fluency, writing fluency, math fluency scores would be weak. It also seems like students need a stronger background history of difficulty to be allowed additional time on tests. In other words, their processing speed issues would have caused them to struggle in elementary school as well as middle school and high school.

  • Barb

    My son will be 12 this year. He has a problem with reading comprehension, because of this he scores very low on I-Step test. I have been working with him along with his teacher. I just recently noticed that he has been paying attention to details in a short stories. His Star Reading scores will be high one day and low the next and it repeats the pattern. Why does this happen? What can I go to help him more?

    • The inconsistent pattern you describe can be due to a number of factors. I would suggest you have an evaluation done to investigate his auditory processing, working memory and attention skills. Talk to the examiner to see if there are other areas they recommend assessing. Inconsistent performance indicates that when a student can fully focus he can achieve good results, but when there are other aspects pulling his attention away his performance drops. When a child is compensating for an underlying learning difficulty it can be hard for him to demonstrate his skills consistently as the working memory skills are divided between compensating for the area of deficit and learning the new material. I hope this helps.

  • Lori Lipsky

    I wonder if you can help me figure out how to help my son. He is 10 and scored 99.6% in overall cognitive ability (full scale IQ score of 140 on Woodcock Johnson III) but just an average processing speed. Working memory was above average but not near his other scores. He has no problems with reading– in fact, he is an advanced reader. His handwriting is neat and he does not appear to have any trouble writing, although his writing speed cannot match his speed of thought. He does have ADHD. His therapist feels that he is extraordinarily frustrated because of the slow processing speed. At his age, what else can we do to help him? I don’t feel he needs OT or speech, and we started him on medication, which seems to be helping a bit. Is there anything else I can do or any other testing we should investigate?

    • I suggest that you get him on Dragon Dictate, a speech to text software and get him to be touch typist. If he can dictate and/or type as fast as he thinks he will be able to get his ideas out and be less frustrated.

  • Hanna

    We are headed to school tomorrow to meet and request a 504 for a processing speed issue. Our daughter is very bright with a WISC Full Scale IQ of 132. She has a GPR of 4.6 out of 5. However she has always had a processing speed issues and this year it is causing problems with her math grade. On her original WISC when she was 9 her Verbal Comp was 130 and her Processing Speed 112 which has a greater difference then the 15 points you reference. Last year, at 15, when she was up all hours doing homework, reading is painfully slow, we had her retested and the doctor only redid her processing speed which dropped to 103. She did not want to be “different” and insisted on not asking for more time last year, but has now realized that she cannot get by in math without it. The school asked for all her testing reports which we will bring and a “diagnosis” which we do not have. The psychologist who did the testing said it was not possible for her to give one. I am not sure how to address this in the meeting tomorrow. I also feel that the school may say she is doing so well in other areas she shouldn’t worry about this one class, but we believe that without extra time she is unable to show what she know. Any thoughts you can share would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hanna

      Issue resolved, diagnosis not needed, school kindly offered a “local accommodation” for math without the need for a 504..our school system worked towards the best interest of the student which is a good thing.

  • Jessica Kruse

    My son is 8 years of age and tests very high on IQ but far below normal in processing. We have also been told he is in the aspergers portion of the autism spectrum. The doctor is insisting that we medicate. Is this necessary? He is performing as expected academically in 2nd grade. The doctor insists he should be in the gifted program and that denying him medication for improving his processing is not fair to the child. My ex husband (who is a lawyer) is threatening to medicate him with out my consent and take me to court if I don’t agree. I am terrified. My child is bright healthy and happy. Why must i expose him to drugs? Am I being negligent in refraining from medication? Please help!

    • The issue of whether to medicate or not medicate a child is very tricky. It is not something that I can comment on in this type of forum. I suggest that you speak to the school and create a learning team which consists of your son’s teacher, the learning specialist at the school, a psychologist, and the doctor who did his assessment, as well as you and your husband. You can research more about processing speed, Aspergers, and medication to help you make your decision.

  • Cathy

    Hello, Dr. Mullin — My 15-year-old NLD daughter shows a huge disparity between her verbal abilities and her processing speed. She is in the 99th percentile for reading comprehension on the Nelson-Denny Reading Test with double time but only in the 29th percentile with standard time. She has high average and even superior scores on several language-based tests, but shockingly low scores on visual ones; for example, she scores in less than the 10th percentile on the Wechsler (WISC-IV) for Coding, Block Design, Processing Speed, Symbol Search, Letter-Number Sequence, and Matrix Reasoning. She is in three honors classes in high school which have a large reading component and she spends every free moment after school on homework, much of it on reading assignments. Can you recommend any reading strategies that might help compensate for her processing speed deficits? Is it possible that a program like Evelyn Wood’s Reading Dynamics might help? Thank you.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      The first thing I think of is books on tape, which now really means downloadable. It sounds like she has both visual tracking and visual spatial weaknesses. This would suggest that vision therapy may be helpful to increase her reading speed. I don’t think Evelyn Wood’s programs will the right intervention. A program like Eye-Q can be helpful if vision therapy is not an option.

      Reading Strategies such as reading the questions first so that she knows what she is looking for can be helpful as well as the SQ3R reading method.

      • Cathy

        Thank you very much for these suggestions, Dr. Mullin. I also just came across the Learning RX Brain Training program ( which seems to retrain the brain to strengthen cognitive weaknesses. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

      • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

        Hi Cathy,

        The Learning Rx company has produced good products. The way they have their website set up it is hard to determine what activities they include in their Brain Training program. I know that this company used to have a program called PACE, which stood for Processing And Cognitive Enhancement. I can only assume that their new brain training program is an extension of the PACE program activities. The PACE program did a wonderful job of building working memory, visual memory, spatial orientation, and auditory processing.

        I am not sure whether the Learning RX program will increase processing speed. There were no fine motor skill building activities in the original program, I do not know whether they have had anything in the new program. Without seeing the actual activities in the program I cannot determine what cognitive skills are being developed in their new program.

  • Dash

    Thank you so much for this information!

  • Sara

    I have just found your blog and it is proving very helpful. I have a son who is 13, he sat the WISC4 two and a half years ago. In both vocab and comp he scored 16. In digit span he scored 6 and in letter-number sequencing he scored 7. In coding he scored 5 and symbol search he scored 9.

    I have been told by a clinical psychologist recently that test done in the last month put him on the first percentile for working memory and processing. As you can imagine we are living with a lot of frustration. I am struggling to work out what are realistic expectations for him. I wondered if you had any advice


    Sara(In the UK)

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      Is attention an issue at all? There is a strong correlation between attentional issues and weak working memory skills. I would investigate the CogMed Working Memory program and the Re-Train the Brain program to build his working memory and fine motor skills.

  • Hello. I’m trying to help my 10 year old son live to his potential! Glad I found you. Because of suspicion of ADHD, I had the appropriate series of tests run last year. The results showed moderate ADHD, Verbal Comp. score Superior at 92nd percentile, Perceptual Reasoning Superior at 94th percentile, Working Memory High Average at 75th percentile and Processing Speed at low average at the 27th percentile. He scored significantly lower in working memory and processing speed than in verbal comp and percetual reasoning. In fact processing speed is two standard deviation differences from his verbal comp. and perceptual reasoning scores. Additionally, he was diagnosed as having some dsygraphia and his visual motor skills score was in the low range w mild deficits at the 3rd percentile. I am not able to provide tutoring solutions at this time and am therefore doing my own investigative work to help work through frustration by building up his weaknesses. He scored in the 97th percentile on End of grade testing for math and 79th for language. On a recent placement test, he scored in the 95th for math and 65th for reading comprehension. I finally figured out that to help him improve his reading comprehension, I have to help him improve his processing and working memory. I remembered a game we had on the DS called Brain Age and then found out that it is available for the ipad and just downloaded it. Apparently, these games are perfect for this goal. What do you think? and do you have any other suggestions on how I can help my son without the use of a tutor? Or spending any money? I think as school becomes more challenging, he is going to run into some brick walls unless we address this. Thank you. Tracy

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      You can read the suggestions in my article on the Frustration Profile. Brain training games are great, but you need to create a chart and make sure that he is working at his potential to ensure that the working memory is being tapped. I also recommend my Flexible Thinking Program for many gifted students to help them learn to slow down and work through problems and learn to create strategies to deal with frustration.

  • Lowe9

    Thank you for this site! We have been trying to figure out our son’s WISC-IV scores and what they tell us about him. Our son is 7, has higher functioning ASD and has been making all As and Bs in a regular classroom (with an aide) We had him tested to see if he was eligibile for gifted. His VCI was 132, PRI 96, WMI 91 but his PSI was 78. We know they did not give him sensory breaks during the testing and I am afraid that effected his score. Because this result gives him a full scale of 102, he does not qualify for gifted. What does such a huge drop between VCI and PSI mean? We are worried that this does not adequately reflect his intelligence and if his PSI was so weak that it would be affecting his school work more? Do you have any suggestions on how we could address this with the school?

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      You can read the post I wrote about a 16 year old with a similar profile : How does a low processing speed score affect my child? You may also learn more form my post on executive functioning skills and processing speed.

      When there is a significant difference between Index scores the full scale IQ number is not a true measure of a child’s ability. I would investigate the low processing speed further. Does he have dysgraphia, a visual processing deficit, or is he a slow thinker? Something is going on that is affecting his ability, and it is worth finding out now how to help him. I would go back to the school and ask some more questions. Your son has verbal strengths and you want to ensure that he continues to develop to his potential.

  • Margie Ello

    Hi Dr. Mullin,
    Echoing what other’s said, thank you for taking the time to respond to all the questions. Here is mine. My 10 yr old son had issues with reading comprehension. He went through a couple of reputable reading programs and post test showed improvement of several grade levels. After his last post test, it was recommended that he takes a cognitive test because he said that my son is bright but worked at a slow pace. He had a WISC-IV test last week. While I don’t have the report yet, I was told the following: VCI 79th percentile, PRI 94th percentile, WMI 55th percentile and PSI is 9th percentile. So the initial assessment of a slow processing speed was correct. Aside from accommodations in school, what can be done to improve his speed? He has a tough time focusing and often fidgets. He’s had ADHD evaluations twice and both concluded negative. Also, he had ITBS and COGat testing in school and his “predicted national percentile rank” based on his COGat was above average but his actual “national percentile rank” was low average. Any recommendations. Thank you.

  • Kate


    First, I must say, this website is wonderful. I have found it while trying to decipher my children’s WISC-IV scores from their recent tests.

    A bit of background, my 10yo son has ADD, primary inattentive type. This past year, after a few frustrating and tearful years of school, we decided to homeschool to better suit his learning needs, as we are against medication at this point. I also have a bright and eager to learn 7yo. For my own piece of mind, I had my child’s psychologist administer the WISC, primarily to find gaps and strengths in order to tailor our curriculum for this coming year. I was shocked and pleased at the results of the test scores. We briefly discussed the results, and I wasn’t all to concerned at the time, but then started to do further research while choosing materials this week..which led to my questioning. The only real thing that concerns me is the PSI score, as it is significantly less than the others for both my children.


    What is interesting to me is that both their high and low scores are exactly the same. This leads me to believe that myself, as their primary teacher, is educating them in a way to impact these scores. Is the processing speed score related to my son’s ADD. My daughter shows no signs of inattentiveness. I am looking for a bit of guidance regarding a plan to help my children raise these scores, or some suggested activities to strengthen their processing speed.

    Thanks for your time and guidance!

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      I do not think you need to worry about your children. They have strong scores across the board. Just to be on the safe side I would make sure that they are comfortable with their writing skills and are not frustrated with the motor aspect of writing. Their processing speed score is in the average range for their ages and that is fine.

  • Becky Synan

    Our son is almost 20, about to be a sophmore in college. His “only” deficit is processing speed, and he has Aspergers. (We just had him retested last spring break.) For this next academic year, he has been granted a few accommodations at school: lower credit requirement (15 to 12, for his scholarship) and 50% more time for exams. I’m wondering if there is anything more we can do.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      A note taker would be helpful to ensure that he has all the information given in class. I am going assume that he is a fast typist and that he can use his computer in the class for note taking and for exams. Those are the most important additional accommodations for processing speed deficits. Regarding the Aspergers it is hard to comment as the strengths and weaknesses of this profile vary greatly. One helpful thing would be make sure to get an outline of the class requirements and what is going to be expected for each class and make sure to review it so that your son understands what is expected of him. Many Aspergers students have difficulty with novel assignments and can have trouble sticking to the topic to fulfill the assignment, or they can create more work than is needed by providing more information than was required. While this can make for an excellent grade it can “burn out” the student as he is doing extra work and then can become overwhelmed with the workload of school.

  • Corina


    We have a 9 year old daughter who we really need help with. She was tested at 7 years 11 months and these are her results WISC-1V
    Verbal Comprehension – Similarities 50%, Vocabulary 37%, Comprehension 78%
    Perceptual Reasoning – Block design 50%, Picture Concepts 63% Matrix reasoning 50%
    Working Memory – Digit span 25%, Letter-Number sequence 25%
    Processing Speed – Coding 2%, Symbol search 9%
    we were told she is dyslexic on top of this plus she was diagnosed with Petite Mal epilepsy at 6 years old which she is medicated for.

    We are looking at the cogmed working memory training for her have an appointment next week but what do we do about her processing speed. This is really making life hard for her, and her school dont really care so the whole learning/school thing is becoming a right nightmare.

    Any ideas

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      Given the low Coding and Symbol Search scores I suggest an evaluation with a vision specialist and an occupational therapist to further evaluate her eye tracking skills and her fine motor skills. You can also read my article on Dsygraphia and dyslexia for more information.

  • Concerned Father

    Hi Melissa, my son is 11 years old and a straight A student. He is also bilingual. However, he has a very difficult time *concisely* expressing himself verbally. He reads and writes very fluently, but just takes forever when talking. I recently read something that referenced cognitive processing speed. He did not talk much until he was 3 years old, he takes a while to finish homework, took longer than his siblings to tie his shoes well, and is often distracted. When he was younger we thought he might have a hearing problem (he does not) because he would not readily answer us when he was doing something. His school has tested him and monitors him, but have not found anything that they believe is cause for concern. However his teachers do say that he definitely takes his time when verbally answering questions. I also notice (and he has mentioned) kids teasing him because of the way he talks. Any advice you can provide in terms of actionable items we can take with him is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      It may be that your son is a visual learner. You can learn more about that in my article Do visual learners have more difficulty with language organization than verbal learners?.

      • mj

        Thank you Dr. Mullin, great article!

        Any suggestions on how to help regarding how we can help him improve his speaking speed? He really takes his time and has to think before getting the words out.

        Again, thanks for your input!

      • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

        I would suggest you find a speech specialist who understands word finding issues as well as executive functioning issues. It may be that your son has many ideas in his head and has a hard time honing them down to what he wants to say, that would be an executive functioning skill. He may then have a hard time matching the words to his idea- that would be the speech therapy skill.

  • Thank you so much for this information! Our daughter was adopted from Russia and has ADHD and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. She was evaluated at Children’s Research Triangle in Chicago and the test did show lower scores on processing speed. Last year the school said she only met one criterion for an IEP (low physical development) and so qualified for a 504. The majority of the suggestions in the CRT report were mostly ignored, so I am gathering as much information as I can prior to this year’s meeting so that I can go informed and fight for her. I watched her struggle in math last year as she was unable to complete the timed tests, and homework took over an hour to complete because of the sentences she had to write for her book reports. I’m hoping to reduce handwriting homework and fight for either longer time on math tests or no timed tests. Thanks for this information as it gives me a better understanding of how she learns and what the scores on her evaluations mean! I especially thought the information you gave on the Coding and Symbol search results were fascinating! Because she is very small for her age, her hands are very small and I’ve always known that writing is very tedious for her. Seeing that in the results with a coding score of 6 and a symbol search score of 8 confirmed that for her, part of the issue is her fine motor skills. One thing to note, however, is that we removed gluten from her diet because it was causing a lot of gas. Once we took the gluten away, her hyper behavior all but disappeared, her writing, coloring and cutting skills improved, and her ADHD symptoms improved. The CRT visit was before we discovered the gluten issue. Looking forward to this next 504 meeting, but getting a little nervous. I don’t want to come across as too aggressive.

  • Pamela Mack

    Hi Melissa– I just want to thank you for this overview. It’s SO helpful to see a concrete neurological explanation for what I intuitively understand about my son’s creative process. His WISC Verbal Comprehension Index is very high (99%) and 29 points higher than his Processing Speed Index. In every day practice, this can really skew some teachers’ perception of his intellect and/or effort. He’s lost in the process of processing, and it’s tempting to assume he’s spaced out or not trying.
    In my attempts to explain him to each teacher, each year, I have used the analogy of a very BIG radar dish. He’s pulling in information from all directions, all levels, all the time. It takes some extra time to sort through all that information and settle on what should be given back in the form of a story or an answer. In First Grade, his teacher pushed and pushed for speed and completion, constantly doubting his effort because his effort did not “show,” and it really damaged his overall academic confidence. He’s in an independent school, so I’m not sure we can pursue a formal IEP, but I will explore your suggested therapies in the hopes that he can develop a set of tools for greater success with all the writing yet to come in years ahead. Is this something that development will eventually mediate? Or will this be a foundational factor for the rest of his life?
    Please leave this post up until 2028! I have a feeling we’re going to be pointing teachers to it until he’s graduated from college. : )

  • ttv

    My mother’s intuition tells me something is not right – I suspect a learning disability but the school says all is well. My son is in 3rd grade and has almost an aversion to putting his thoughts on paper (responding to writing prompts.) He will do his math homework in 3 minutes but his language arts takes 2-3 hours. He currently has a diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome. Could you please suggest where I should request they focus on? The reason I suspect a learning disability is because I can see he is frustrated when he has to think about what he is going to write and his Sequential scores are so much lower than his Simultaneous, Learning and Knowledge scores so it seems as though he is driving a Ferrari with the brakes on.

    Here are my son’s KABC-II scores:

    Sequential 109 (percentile 73%)
    Number recall 12
    Word order 11

    Simultaneous 132 (percentile 98%)
    Rover 17
    Triangles 13

    Learning 133 (percentile 99%)
    Atlantis 17
    Rebus 14

    Knowledge 129 (percentile 97%)
    Verbal Knowledge 16
    Riddles 14

    Fluid-Crystallized Index 138

    Here are my son’s KTEA-II scores
    Reading 119 (percentile 90%)
    Math 133 (percentile 99%)
    Writing 117 (percentile 87%)
    Brief Achievement Composite 128 (percentile 97%)

    • I would build executive functioning skills to help him organize his thought before he writes.Here reccomendation from The Frustration Profile:

      Executive Function/Memory Skills

      Build strategies to help him analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment.
      Break down tasks and follow the order checking work along the way.
      Rehearse new information to help encode it.
      Use his verbal strengths to talk himself through tasks.
      Teach Glen strategies to help him recall information, such as PAR.
      1. P= Picture it.
      2. A= Associate it
      3. R= Review it.
      Teach Glen to recognize common words for ordering a sequence of instructions, such as “first,” “next,” and “finally.”
      Teach Glen how to effectively follow written directions by underlining key words, numbering steps, and crossing off tasks when he has completed them.
      Teach Glen to use graphic organizers such as checklists and timelines for breaking down assignments, as well as classify and categorize information.

  • ADD Mom

    We stay in South Africa and recently took our son out of a mainstream school and put him into a private school specialising in ADHD/Autism/learning difficulties. He’s in grade 1 and was diagnosed with both ADD Inattentive and anxiety. The more I read up on SPS the more I think that this is what might cause his anxiety. When you ask him something he would stare at your for a moment and then you can literally see the light go on in his eyes. With strangers and his previous teacher it is different as the teacher wants an immediate answer and as he could not give it, I think she became impatient and he would immediately shut down, not being able to give an answer at all. Because of this he was failing grade 1. You would tell him to get dressed and put his clothes down for him, 30 minutes later he hasn’t even started. His school work was never completed and only halfway done when he had a lot of motivation. His homework is fine and where it took 1hour in the beginning, he did it in 15 minutes before he left the school (I think it was because he had learn to adapt and there is no pressure at home). Thing is I do not think the concerta (18mg) works for the processing speed. His concentration is better but it still takes him very long to complete simple tasks. His reading is very good as his previous schools’ standard was high. His maths is ok and his English is picking up nicely (we are Afrikaans). Thing is that this new school doesn’t have any outdoor activities like sports and culture. He also has picked up that his classmates are ‘different’ (his words; most of them are autistic) and he has not really made friends with them. The school is also extremely expensive. We are going to see how it goes for the rest of this year and next, but want to put him back into the mainstream at least by grade 3. Is there anything we can do in the meantime to help him be able to adjust to the mainstream school? We have at least a year to get him some help.

  • Saransh Gupta


    My Son (9 yrs 11 months) was diagnosed for ADHD and we were advised to take the Learning ability test for him. Got a result of high working memory and low processing speed. What is the best way to improve on the processing speed

    1. Working Memory – Percentile Rank – 99, Confidence Interval 125-140 (Very High)
    2. Processing Speed – Percentile Rang – 58, Confidence Interval – 94-112 (Average)

    Subset Scores: –
    1. Working Memory – Digit Span – 19
    2. Working Memory – Letter Number Sequencing – 13
    3. Processing Speed – Coding – 8
    4. Processing Speed – Symbol Search – 13


    • Looking at the scores you have provided I note that your son’s Coding score is significantly lower than his other scores. Since his Symbol Search score is strong we can assume that his visual processing skills are fine. This would mean that the motor portion of the Coding is what slowed him down. How is his handwriting? Is it hard for him to sit down and write a paper? Are his math papers messy causing him to make careless errors? You can look into fine motor skill programs, such as Retrain the Brain, that can help build his fine motor skills which in turn should increase his processing speed.

      One other note, you mention that he was diagnosed with ADHD. Are you going to try medical intervention? If your son is going to be taking medication to improve his attention I would suggest that once he is stabilized on the medication to have him retake the Processing Speed subtests. There is a percentage of children whose fine motor skills improve along with their attention skills.

      • Saransh Gupta

        His handwriting is fine and he scored good in the mathematical abilities. But since past 2-3 weeks he is always coming back with his classwork almost completely incomplete, it was not that bad earlier.

        He as taking Attentrol for about an year and we were suggested to take this learning disability test. After the test he has been put on Addwise for 10 days and we have to go back to the doctor after 10 days to report the affect of this medication.

        As per the summary of the testing report “his nonverbal composite as measured by Special Nonverbal composite is in very high range and is at 98th percentile putting him in gifted range non verbal reasoning abilities. He appears to have language based difficulties in understanding verbal information and expressing himself. These language based problems reflects he struggles with underdeveloped vocabulary, a concrete style of thinking, difficulties in remembering and keeping track of what is said or difficulties in organizing thoughts.”
        … “He fulfills the criteria of twice exceptional student. He has gifted nonverbal cognitive abilities with significantly lower verbal reasoning abilities”

        The current problem is that they reported that he has a very low self esteem and as per the Child Psycologist’s comments “You have a gem of a child and it is sad to see that such a child has low self esteem. You need to work on this.”

  • dee

    Worried Mom
    My son was tested in public middle school for a learning disability as it took him so much longer on homework than his peers and low grades in math and science despite tremendous effort on his part. The tests were all average–some low average ,some middle ground. The one exception was Visual Memory Index where he tested in the first percentile! He was given extra time (50%) in math and science to accomodate for this. He gets As and Bs, but Cs in math and science (basic courses–no honors or AP). Fast forward to HS where he is a junior at a Catholic school. They continue to give him extra time on Math and Science tests, and he has a math tutor, but they cannot provide the testing he would need to get the extra time accomodation for the math and science sections of the ACT. Our local public High School to which we pay taxes but do not use says they cannot provide testing for him either. Private testing will cost approx. $4500 and we simply cannot afford it–we are already stretched paying his tuition and for a tutor. Do you have any thoughts on the ACT. Could I just write to the ACT board?

  • Janine

    My 10 yr old son was tested on the WISC IV for private school 2 years ago (8 yrs old) with the following scores.

    FSIQ 118
    VCI 116
    PRI 115
    WMI 129
    PSI 91. subtests coding 7, symbol 10 and cancellation 14

    Recently tested WISC-V

    FSIQ 110
    VC 113
    WM 115
    Fluid Reasoning 123
    Visual Spatial 97
    Processing 83. Subtest coding 6, symbol 8

    The difference in the results are a bit confusing but definitely there is an issue with Processing Speed. Do you have any thoughts on the difference? Also, he seems to read and complete classroom activities at a slower rate than his peers, according to his teacher. However he has no difficulty completing tests on time, usually in the middle of the pack. He also seems to get distracted when he has to perform activities like reading by himself or multi step math word problems. Any recommendations? The evaluators each time, have not been “too” concerned with the processing speed. I want to help him realize his fullest potential by finding supoort for the weakenesses(processing speed) and capitalize on his strengths which appears to be Fluid Reasoning from the WISC V results.

    • Looking at the scores it appears that fine motor skills are an issue. I like the Retrain the Brain program to build motor skills. Have you had his eye evaluated to make sure tracking is not an issue? Tracking issues impact reading skills and fine discrimination skills which can affect math work. Executive functioning would be the next area to investigate.

  • HBDeb

    I have a son in 12th grade who has been diagnosed with depression as well as a specific learning disability in math. On the WISC his verbal scores were okay but he had an extremely low score for processing speed. Now that depression is being addressed, my son is feeling more hopeful and wants to prepare for college. What strategies do you suggest for him to understand how to manage his challenges with processing speed? The neuropsychologist that did the testing suggested occupational therapy, voice to text software and a special writing instrument. He has an IEP but I don’t think it has addressed the processing speed yet.

  • Sarah

    We noticed that our 8 year old struggled with reading (though has recently made great gains in sight word recognition through intensive work through his public school.) We also noticed that his processing speed seemed slow (impacting academics, social life and athletics.) We had him tested last week and, this week, got the results:

    Verbal Comprehension 121
    Visual Spatial 108
    Fluid Reasoning 112
    Working Memory 76
    Processing Speed 77

    His diagnosis of dyslexia failed to reach statistical significance but only by a few points.

    He also completed a Beck Youth Inventory and scored low (healthy) on all subscales except the Self-Concept scale where showed low self-esteem.

    We told him that he had a lot of strengths and a “complex brain that moves a bit slowly.” He was uncomfortable hearing about the results, got a little tearful and then ashamed about that.

    1) I feel like I’m surrounded by folks who kids are in gifted and are reading the 5th Harry Potter book. How do I find a support community to talk about our family’s concerns?
    2) Are there ways to increase processing speed and working memory, or does that just have to develop on its own?
    3) My husband is concerned that our son’s lack of video game exposure may have allowed his processing speed to languish. I disagree. However, I’m open to hearing if video gaming could help.
    4) How do we work on his self-esteem? Also, he’s perfectionistic and we want to work on cultivating a growth mindset.
    5) Our neuropsychologist cautioned that there are a lot of “snake oil” interventions out there for processing speed and working memory. How do you distinguish among the programs?
    6) What kind of accommodations should we consider seeking through our school district?

    Thank you.

    • Wow, these are great questions.

      Question 1) I feel like I’m surrounded by folks who kids are in gifted and are reading the 5th Harry Potter book. How do I find a support community to talk about our family’s concerns?
      Answer: Talk to your child’s teacher. It may seem like the other children are all gifted, but I am sure there are other children and families like you in your community. Try not to compare your son to other students; he is his own person.

      Question 2) Are there ways to increase processing speed and working memory, or does that just have to develop on its own?
      Answer: Read my blog post: Working Memory and Processing Speed

      Question 3) My husband is concerned that our son’s lack of video game exposure may have allowed his processing speed to languish. I disagree. However, I’m open to hearing if video gaming could help.
      Answer: I have not seen a study that found video games develop processing speed. There are different kinds of processing speed, video games mostly focus on eye-hand coordination and quick reflexes. Academics require visual-motor processing speed that relies on handwriting skills and cognitive processing of information.

      Question 4) How do we work on his self-esteem? Also, he’s perfectionistic and we want to work on cultivating a growth mindset.
      Answer: Here are some tip from KidsHealth :read the full article
      • Be careful what you say. Kids can be sensitive to parents’ and others’ words
      • Be a positive role model.
      • Identify and redirect inaccurate beliefs.
      • Be spontaneous and affectionate.
      • Give positive, accurate feedback.
      • Create a safe, loving home environment.
      • Help kids become involved in constructive experiences.

      Question 5) Our neuropsychologist cautioned that there are a lot of “snake oil” interventions out there for processing speed and working memory. How do you distinguish among the programs?
      Answer: Talk to people you trust. Ask to speak with parents whose children have used the program. The issue is that while a program may be good for one student, it may not right for the next. The better you understand your child’s learning issues, the better you will be able to pick the right program to address those issues.

      Question 6) What kind of accommodations should we consider seeking through our school district?
      Answer: I can’t answer this one. You should talk to the person who did the evaluation and see what they recommend. The WISC scores are only part of the picture, based on the full evaluation recommendations can be suggested. Schools differ in what they offer and the criteria you need to meet to be eligible for services. A professional in your area who works with your school district will enable you to get the best advice.

  • Tracey

    My 17 year old son was tested 2 years ago when he was age 15.3.

    He was given the WISC-IV and I’ve listed his scores below. As a 10th grader at the time he struggled in writing and getting his thoughts out which frustrated him greatly. Because he was receiving good grades at the time he was unable to receive any services. Fast forward to the present. He is currently a 12th grader and failing all his AP courses. He tells us he doesn’t know why but his brain is over capacity when it comes to taking in any more information. He has lost all confidence in himself and has shut completely down when it comes to any work related to school. He is now suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of this and has been placed on medications to help with the depression. On top of it he has missed 25 days of school. I am wondering if his processing speed might be the cause of all his frustrations and it’s all come to a head in his AP courses. We are taking him to a psychologist but they are all at a lost as to how to help him.

    130 – Verbal comprehension
    135- Perceptual Reasoning
    123- Working Memory
    121-Processing Speed
    135-Full Scale IQ

    • Your son is extremely bright. He says that he can’t take in any more information, and I would listen to him. It sounds to me like an executive functioning deficit. Your son is so bright that he is taking in information but he can’t organize and store all the information he has.

      Here is a quick overview of executive functioning components:
      INITIATION • Starting work
      INHIBITION • Stopping off-task behavior
      SHIFT • Moving from one idea or activity to another
      WORKING MEMORY • Remembering information for immediate use
      PLANNING • Setting goals and the steps to accomplish them
      ORGANIZING MATERIALS • Tracking items in work spaces
      TIME MANAGEMENT • Allotting appropriate time for each task
      MONITORING • Judging the quality and pace of work
      EMOTIONAL CONTROL • Regulating stress and distractibility

      The first thing I would focus on is his note-taking skills. Here are some tips from our Executive Functioning Workbook.

      How Do I Format my Notes?
      • Divide your Page
      • One format is to divide your page into main ideas and supporting details.
      • First, fold your paper into a 1/3 section on the left and a 2/3 section on the right.
      • Then, write the main ideas from the lecture on the left side of the page and the supporting details on the right.

      Graphic Organizer App Simply drag and drop to organize and categorize concepts and ideas. Establish connections with links and connecting phrases. Structure is automatically generated for you when you use Arrange or when you view your diagram as an outline.
      Here are some other articles that may help you:

  • Cornie

    Good day Melissa. I wonder if you could help me. After various tests my son (7, grade 2) was diagnosed with ADD (inattentive) and anxiety last year. He’s on Ritalin and though it helps a little, he still has major issues at school. I can write my PhD from all the research I have done and we still do not have a clear answer. We’ve looked at seizures, dyslexia, dysgraphia, executive functioning etc. One example: yesterday he needed to write 8 sentences with words like in, on, you etc. It took him over an hour to write and I needed to give him an extra word like bike, doll just to get him started (4 – 7 minutes to get this done). He would then first need to figure out which line to use, then where to start and then realize that the word needs to start with a capital (2 – 4 minutes have now passed). By then he needs to be reminded what the sentence is again. His handwriting is poor so he has the tendency to try and fix it (which obviously makes it worse). By the time he’s written the first word, the whole ritual has to start all over again. And if someone says just one word his concentration is completely off and he needs to be reminded from scratch. This is the same at school. His teacher says he rarely starts his work and when she eventually sits with him to start, it takes him ages and he doesn’t complete it (he’s already in a remedial school). This is with all aspects in his life: getting into the bath and then getting out, his pants would be halfway up when he realizes he still has his pj’s on :). It’s only play station that keeps his attention fully (which we had to cut down on). We live in South Africa so we do not have the same tests. He was tested by an Educational Psychologist, but he was so nervous that the results could be completely wrong. He has the ability to everything that is expected, his reading is the best in his class and he remembers what he reads. His maths verbally is very good, but when writing, he makes careless mistakes. He also needs a couple of seconds before answering a question, which he will but when he’s expected to write or come up with own ideas, his mind is a blank. Do you have any advice or ideas into which we can look further? I have even thought of trying white noise?

  • I have a 17 (11th grade)year old son, with Aspergers ( diagnosed in 1st grade). Mainstreamed with a 504, with extra time for tests, small group test when available. It was much easier for the accommodations prior to highschool. He has always done well in school (current 3.8 GPA) with 3 honors classes this year. Spend a great amount of time doing homework , hardly anytime for anything else. Just approved for extra time for college board tests, received a good score on PSAT, currently prepping for SAT. He was retested again (at college board’s request)with the Wechsler adult intelligence scale- 4th edition since his last test was in 2006. His results were as follows:

    Full scare IQ: 98
    Verbal comp(VC): 127
    Perceptual Reasoning(PR): 100
    Working memory (wm): 92
    Processing speed (ps): 65

    Trying to figure out how to interpret this test and figure is it is sufficient to obtain accommodations in college or must I have him tested for ASD again also
    Trying to prepare him for college, to try improve processing speed. Any help is appreciated

    • I would check with your college councilor, but your son has a significant difference between his verbal comprehension and processing speed, so I would think this testing would be enough for college accommodations. You might find that colleges want a full educational evaluation to gain a broader picture of your son. The full evaluation would include academic testing and show a “functional disability” in academic fluency if your son’s reading, writing or math skills suffer under time constraints. Since you have a 504 and a diagnosis of Aspergers, you might have all the documentation you need. If you know some of the colleges you might attend, you can go on their websites to see what requirements are needed to qualify for services and what services they provide.

      You can find some very helpful information from Elizabeth Hamblet at her website Elizabeth includes a list of helpful links including:

      As a college student I would really focus on speech to text software for writing, typing skills, and organizational tools to save time.

  • Miranda

    Hi Melissa,
    I have been reading your pages with great interest. My sons test scores (2013) are; VCI – 126, PRI -124, WMI – 107 ( digit span 12 & letter number sequencing 11 (slight weakness in reversed number sequencing)) PSI – 83 (coding 7, symbol search 7). His Visual- Written test on memory and processing score is on 50 Centile. Has higher than average reading and spelling ability and weaker in maths. School life is really tough, full of pressure and anxiety and feeling of failure. He has been described as bright, creative, articulate but his ability to produce written work at length is minimal and he is beginning to refuse to write. He has good cursive handwriting. I scribe his homework in the evening otherwise it can turn into a 2hr affair. He is learning to touch type. He wants the world to slow down and complains his brain is too full with all he has to remember. He has poor time management, poor organisation skills in busy environments, easily distracted, constantly losing stuff, can be overly emotional. He hasn’t been given any interventions (technological or therapeutic) too to date. But by reading some comments you have made, maybe he should have (OT etc)? What are your thoughts and which skill do you strengthen first? We have recently taken him out of private school and will homeschool until Sept before he renters for Secondary School and really looking to strengthen and build on his skill set so he can succeed in school as he should.

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