Ask Melissa

 

 

Melissa Mullin earned her Ph.D in Educational Psychology with a specialization in Learning and Instruction from the University of California at Los Angeles.  As  the Director of the K & M Center in Santa Monica, CA. Melissa has been helping students, and their parents, learn for over 20 years.

If you would like Melissa to answer your question post it in the comment section at the bottom of the page. Melissa will do her best to answer your question and she may use it as a post so other parents can learn from your experience.

If you would like a private consultation, Melissa is available for meetings in Santa Monica, CA or by Skype.

30 comments

  • Melissa, I am wondering if you can offer insight on accommodating a homeschooled 7 year old with higher verbal comprehension at 142 and (relatively) low working memory of 116, with perceptual reasoning being 121, processing speed 126, and FSIQ is 135. We just evaluated with the WISC-IV yesterday and I am awaiting the full written report, but I am eager to dive in deeper with how to best serve her educationally. We are very relaxed homeschoolers using minimal formal curriculum, but when I attempt sit-down instruction it is met with a lot of resistance and apparent perfectionism with a refusal to try new concepts. But now I am wondering if her comparatively low working memory is affecting her ability to process information in the traditional ways I am expecting. At the assessment she proved able to perform way beyond mathematically than she has ever shown me, and I’m not sure how to tap into that potential without being met with frustration. Sorry if this comment is disjointed; I have a lot of new information bouncing around in my head! Thank you for any insight you can offer.

    • When the PS is higher than the WM it can be challenging for students to slow down and work on problems. It’s not they can’t it is just that they like to think and move quickly. Building her executive functioning skills: Stop, Think, Plan, Do will help her connect with her working memory skills and process information more deeply.

  • Dena

    Hello, Dr. Mullin…

    I don’t know if it would be helpful to get into the minutia, but the short of it is that at the age of 4, my son was tested at a processing speed of 104. He is now 7 years old and on an IEP for behavior…the District psychologist believes it is reinforced attention-seeking (despite the fact his long-term private therapist has diagnosed him with anxiety disorder). He was just evaluated again this past month and his processing speed was tested at 52. We are also near a diagnosis for Cyclic Vomiting Disorder with slow stomach emptying.

    I’m not finding much online about when a child’s processing speed is so drastically reduced over a period of two and a half years. Some sites indicate that it could be caused by anxiety, which would fit with my son’s history. But are there other causes? Also, is this something that happens with many children?

    Thanks so much, Dr. Mullin…good evening!

    • I am not aware of many children whose PS has dropped so dramatically. My first instinct is that he did not fully participate in the testing process. If he was unhappy, sick or anxious during testing he may have worked slowly thereby lowering his score.I would check his processing again when he is feeling well. These tests are very sensitive to children’s engagement in the task.

  • Maliha Masood

    Hi Melissa,
    So glad to have found your website. Fountain of info on core topic of concern. My son is highly gifted but struggles with writing. We had him tested with Weschler 4 when he was 5 and it revealed IQ of 141 and a processing speed of 86 in the 12 percentile. The doc did not think it was an issue but he has been struggling in school since kindergarten complaining about easy work and also hard work when it comes to performance. He did write well enough when he was in school but due to peer pressure and teacher fear. Now we are homeschooling due to his severe anxiety in first grade and I am seeing a complete lack of any brain work that involves writing other than making lists which he loves. He is a great speller with exquisite penmanship. So dysgraphia does not seem to fit. Are there any other LD issues or is the writing reluctance purely a function of poor processing speed? He was very excited about working on his greek mythology time travel story as soon as I allowed him to type on my computer but I cannot understand the resistance to get his ideas on paper. He has great imagination and very creative but he’s a notorious perfectionist which blocks all his efforts. He will be going back to school in the fall for second grade and we are trying to get to the bottom of the writing reluctance in order to better inform his new teacher who may not clue into his struggle when he is so verbal and precocious. Also I need guidance about ending our daily fights at home when it comes to learning as he will give up and not make any effort on any brain work that is challenging. We really need to understand what is the root cause and how we can help him channel his intelligence and apply it towards meaningful projects. He loves to make books but it’s mostly a regurgitation of facts from encyclopedias and not original creative thinking though he has a very fertile imagination. What explains the writing reluctance and how can we hep him make it less of a struggle? He also got into the school’s gifted program but I’m afraid it will be too taxing especially with the daily one hour writers workshop. We are electing to go with a small private school with less academic rigour just so he won’t stress out and be able to attend school without any tears. But I’m not at all sure about the best learning envirnoment given his high intellect and slow speed which is also a factor in social situations where he can get overwhelmed. Sorry for rambling on like this. I’m just desperate for some guidance. Thank u.

    • Highly gifted children have their own needs. You son is very bright and there is often a gap between processing speed and verbal skills in gifted children. Given that he likes typing I would work with the school to add that as an accommodation for him. He needs to have ways to get all his ideas out quickly without the frustration of slowing down the process by motor skills (even if they are average). He also may need to work on his cognitive flexibility skills.

  • Tami

    Hello Dr. Mullen
    i am just in the beginning stages of doing research on slow processing and would like to ask a few questions and get some direction. First, some background- I have 2 boys- one is 11 and one is 7. Recently, my 7yr old’s second grade teacher has come to me with some concerns about his processing speed. He is very big for his age (90+lbs and 57 inches) but has a late birthday (July 13th) and has struggled with fine motor skills such as handwriting and cutting. He also struggles with reading- particularly fluency but seems to do ok with comprehension. I work in his school as an interventionalist and am in his classroom helping other students so an able to observe my son and his teacher as well. They do a lot of work whole class together so it is hard, based on his work, to see if he is “getting” a concept or is just following along with what is happening in class. His teacher tends to not give a lot of wait time when asking questions and moves quickly through questions. My son does not speak much in class but seems to be attending to what is being taught. He is polite and well liked by his peers and is complemented often about his behavior in class. He does not have grades yet but is approaching or meeting standards across the board- except handwriting which affects his written expression.
    I am not sure what steps I should take next- should I ask for him to be tested? Wait until next year to see if a different teacher/teaching style helps? Are there things I should be doing at home to help him now? Are there age appropriate questions I should be asking him to see how he feels in the classroom? We are taking him to his doctor for an annual checkup- are there questions I should ask his doctor? We are in the process of making an eye appt to check his vision as well as talk about tracking.
    I don’t want to put him through the long testing process without evidence to warrant it. What is your advice? Is their more we should be looking into or go straight to testing?
    Thanks for your time- Tami

    • I would not wait to start working with him. Here are some recommendations from my Dysgraphia article.

      Build 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.

      I would also begin working on his reading skills. If his phonics are strong you can use a program like Read Naturally to focus on reading fluency. I would recommend an evaluation to make sure you are providing him with the right support.

  • Debbie Mohammed

    I’m not sure what category my 14 year old falls into and there are limited facilities in my country to have my son tested. He seems to work so hard, yet his performance in tests is very inconsistent and he gets extremely frustrated. Our high school system is very exam oriented and emphasis is on completing syllabus not on ensuring students fully comprehend the subject material.

    In my son’s case, if a question is straight forward, he is able to answer it (either orally or written), but once the question requires some interpretation, he has difficulty recognizing that it requires the same information that the very direct question warranted. He often does not take time to process the information, or properly formulate a response to a question, but proceeds to write an answer. This results in a disjointed or incorrect answer that sometimes has little bearing on the question. How can I help my child re-focus and improve his confidence? thanks Deb.

  • MKD

    Hi,

    We had WISC-IV IQ testing done for my son. He is 8 yrs and brilliant right from his childhood. However, he has trouble fitting in his classroom. His teachers (public school) tell that “He is intelligent but does not focus and finish his work. He doesnt listen,distracts other kids, gets distracted by other kids sounds, you need to do test him”. He has major issues with writing. He does not like it. He says it is very boring and does not see the point in writing long paragraphs for his english classes.

    I talked to my pediatrician and he says there is nothing wrong and just needs to time to mature and we dont need to label him. The teachers suggest that he should be tested for ADHD. The psychologist who did his WISC testing said he does not have ADHD. Can you please give your input on his abilities and weaknesses and how we can tailor his educational experience. All I want is to find the best way for him to reach his full potential.

    The WISC-IV IQ test scoring is as follows:
    IQ Score percentile
    Verbal Comprehension (VCI) : 136 >99
    Perceptual reasoning (PRI): 131 98
    Working Memory (WMI): 116 86
    Processing speed (PSI): 123 94
    FSIQ 135 >99
    GAI: 140 99.6

    I would really appreciate if you see any kind of discrepency or gaps between his indices and if we have to do any more testing.

  • Wendy Consoli

    Hi Dr. Mullin,
    I have written on your blog and read information that have been posted. I have a son with the following scores:
    verbal comp: 121, working memory: 88, perceptual reasoning 106, processing speed:88 , full scale 105

    He is in 8th grade and on a 504. His newest 504 the team put in that he can redo assignments, quizzes, and tests up to a B+. We are going to be having another meeting as teachers are upset and feel he shouldn’t be able to retake and redo. They feel he just isn’t working up to his potential. He finally has B’s and B- in his classes and is having a little self confidence. He struggles with math and writing/grammar/spelling, organization, remembering. Teachers are frustrated with him and he knows they are frustrated and he feels he is a disappointment to his teachers.

    How do I help teachers to understand his struggles? Teachers have said comments to him when he asks a question … “oh were you not listening again, or were you not listening like always…, or I feel like I am wasting my time.. I am putting this time in and I have a family, kids, practice… etc…. He shuts down with negative comments and he doesn’t go in to ask for help and wants to bring things home for me to help him.

    I appreciate your help.
    Thank you for all the information you provide on your website.

  • It’s so nice to hear someone identify with by “About” page. This whole thing has been kind of a lonely process and I’ve been surprised (and dismayed) at my own response to the issue. I had never before understood how deeply judgmental I am in regards to intellectual ability until my own son began to lag behind academically. I feel pretty ashamed, at times, when I reflect on how I’ve mentally ranked others based on things like their vocabulary or grammar. Having a son with dyslexia has opened my eyes to that. And, of course, it worries me that this is so pervasive in our culture–and that my son may encounter teasing, disdain, and limited opportunities.

    Of course, rather than getting sucked into a spiral of anxiety and overthinking, I keep reminding myself to take a step back, see the big picture, feel grateful (e.g. that it’s learning issues and not cancer). This is a great opportunity for me to reexamine my own priorities and values.

  • Meg

    Hi, Melissa,
    We are in a bit of a panic about our son. He is in the 4th grade, and he does math at grade level and reads above grade level. He has very poor handwriting and struggles mightily with written tasks. I had suspected that testing would reveal that he had processing speed issues. It did but it also suggested that he is off-the-charts low in some of the visual areas, and there is a huge discrepancy between his verbal and non-verbal reasoning. He truly is a bright kid. He makes up his own stories, he quickly grasps any piece of new technology, and he can put together any Lego set you put in front of him. He does struggle with making friends, and we have long noticed some odd quirks-he doesn’t like making direct eye contact, when he was younger he had a very hard time remembering names and faces, and he gets excessively emotional at TV shows and movies. Others have suggested perhaps he has some kind of sensory integration, or autism or adhd. I am honestly in tears trying to imagine his future and what we should do for him. He will be getting writing help at school, but what else should I consider? Visual therapy? Something else? Do some of these scores even make sense?

    Here are his scores:
    Differential Ability Scales
    Verbal Standard 116 Percentile 81
    Non Verbal Reasoning Index 75 Percentile 5
    Spaital Index 118 Percentile 88

    Woodcock Johnson
    Verbal 109 72
    Thinking Ability 82 12
    Cognitive Efficiency 72 3

    Subtests
    Verbal comprehension 109 72
    Visual-auditory learning 73 3
    Spatial Relations 97 43
    Sound Blending 84 14
    Concept Formation 88 22
    Visual Matching 17 .1
    Numbers Reversed 103 57

    • First off, yes to vision therapy. The Visual Matching test shows that he is having a difficult time tracking numbers. Vision Therapy should help with that.

      Your evaluator should have some insight for you regarding ADHD or autism. These diagnoses can only be made looking the big picture of a child’s processing. What you do know is that you want to start developing his non-verbal skills. Here is an article I wrote that may help: https://bitsofwisdomforall.com/2014/07/08/slow-processing-speedis-it-due-to-weak-motor-skills-weak-auditory-processing-skills-or-weak-executive-function-skills/

      Now I am copying a reply I wrote to another parent with similar issues.

      Given that your son’s highest score is in Verbal Comprehension and his lowest score in in the Non-Verbal Reasoning Index I have copied a reply I sent to another parent about NonVerbal Learning Disabilities. I hope that you can find some good suggestions here.

      Diagnosing NLD is difficult. Here is a great article that can help you learn more about NLD. I have only included part of the article; I highly suggest you read the whole article to learn about the traits to look at for NLD. There is a difference between dysgraphia and NLD and it is important to know what the differences are. Many dysgraphic students have neuropsychologial deficits which lead to academic issues which are the same as a child with NLD, but they do not have the social/emotional issues.

      The Syndrome of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities:
      Clinical Description and Applied Aspects by Michael A. Roman
      http://www.nldontheweb.org/nldadvancedreading/nldclinicaldescription.html

      Edited article

      Introduction

      The syndrome of nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) includes a number of specific, potentially debilitating symptoms. Rourke (1995a) has grouped these into three major areas:
      1. neuropsychological deficits, include difficulties with
      • tactile and visual perception,
      • psychomotor coordination,
      • tactile and visual attention,
      • nonverbal memory,
      • reasoning,
      • executive functions, and
      • specific aspects of speech and language
      2. academic deficits,
      • in math calculations,
      • mathematical reasoning,
      • reading comprehension,
      • specific aspects of written language, and
      • handwriting are primary academic concerns
      3. social-emotional/adaptational deficits.
      • problems with social perception and social interaction.
      • Children with this disorder are also seen as having substantially increased risk for internalized forms of psychopathology, primarily anxiety and depression.

      While the NVLD syndrome has only recently been described in detail (Rourke, 1987, 1989), a number of important articles and two major books have been dedicated to descriptions of the disorder (Rourke, 1989, 1995a). Despite this fact, the syndrome is unfamiliar to many psychologists, diagnosticians, and educators. There is no formal provision under federal special education law recognizing the existence of nonverbal learning disability as a handicapping condition. In most cases, children with this disorder are best classified as Other Health Impaired. Because they may also have specific motor skills deficits, problems with math, social interactional difficulties, and/or emotional disturbances, some of these children may also be appropriately classified as orthopedically handicapped, learning disabled, or emotionally disturbed. This may be particularly appropriate for cases of neurologically acquired NVLD rather than the more common developmental cases of the disorder.
      Reply

      Setting up a strong support system for your son and helping him build coping skills will help him move toward independence. Using the scaffolding system, you give support while a skill is being developed and then slowly take it away as the student is able to perform on his own. Here is an edited article that outlines many suggestions. The website LDonline is a great resource, http://www.ldonline.org/indepth/nonverbal.

      Developing an Educational Plan for the Student with NLD
      By: Sue Thompson, M.A., C.E. (1998)
      Read the full article at: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6119/

      Has difficulty coping with changes in routine and transitions
      • Providing a predictable and safe environment with a consistent daily routine;
      • Minimizing transitions and giving several verbal cues to the student before transitions;
      • Furnishing the child’s parents with a schedule of activities so they can “rehearse” (preview and prepare) for the following day with their child and make sure he has the necessary supplies required for the day’s activities;
      • Posting a simple written schedule on the blackboard at the beginning of each day in primary grades;
      • Explaining the daily agenda to the older child so he can begin to internalize the structure of his school day;
      • Writing out a high school student’s daily schedule on a card (with any changes in routine highlighted) that can be carried from class to class, so it is always readily available.

      Has difficulty generalizing previously learned information
      • Never expecting the student to automatically generalize instructions or concepts;
      • Using language as the bridge to tie new situations to old learning;
      • Reviewing past information before presenting new concepts;
      • Verbally pointing out similarities, differences and connections;
      • Verbally indicating generalizations which can be drawn in various situations;
      • Methodically discussing the cause-and-effect relationships of events and situations with the student.

      Has difficulty following multi-step instructions
      • Writing out and/or tape recording multi-step instructions;
      • Numbering and presenting instructions in the most efficient sequence;
      • Breaking all tasks down into manageable segments and presenting them a few at a time;
      • Making sure the student understands your instructions- don’t assume that repeating them back to you means that he will remember and can follow through;
      • Pairing the student with NLD with a nondisabled “buddy” who can remind him of “the next step;”
      • \Teaching the student mnemonic devices for short term memory enhancement;
      • Checking with the student at frequent intervals to be sure he is not “lost” or confused.

      Makes very literal translations
      • Explaining what you mean by the things you say which may be misinterpreted;
      • Simplifying and breaking-down abstract concepts;
      • Starting with concrete concepts and images and slowly moving to abstract concepts and images, at a pace set by the student;
      • Understanding that metaphors, emotional nuances, multiple levels of meanings, and relationship issues as presented in novels will not be understood unless explained;
      • Teaching the student to say “I’m not sure what you mean” or “That doesn’t make sense to me” to give her a specific vocabulary to help her decipher your intent.

      Asks too many questions
      • Answering the student’s questions whenever it is possible and practical (other students in the class may actually have the same questions, but be lacking in the verbal abilities to ask them);
      • Starting the other students on the assignment and then individually answering the rest of this student’s questions;
      • Designating a specific time during the day when you can continue a discussion which needs to end at the moment;
      • Telling the student you only have time to answer three questions right now (a specific number is important – – don’t say “a few”), but that you will be glad to answer three more of his questions during the recess break;
      • Specifically teaching the student when it is appropriate to ask for help (i.e. if he will be unable to continue his assignment unless something he doesn’t understand is explained to him) and the appropriate methods of doing so;
      • Explicitly teaching the rules of polite social conduct, so that the child does not constantly interrupt class activities with his questions.

      Is easily overwhelmed
      • Diffusing potentially weighty situations as early on as possible;
      • Minimizing environmental stimuli (especially visual and tactile);
      • Having a consistent strategy to employ when the child can no longer cope due to overstimulation, frustration or confusion;
      • Allowing the child to abstain from participating in activities when she demonstrates any signs of overload;
      • Eliminating all nightly homework assignments;
      • Implementing a modified schedule or other creative programming strategy.

      May experience heightened sensory experiences
      • Preparing the environment for the child (eliminating known sensory stressors);
      • Reducing distractions and situations contributing to sensory overload;
      • Focusing on one sensory modality at a time (avoiding multi-sensory approaches to instruction);
      • Allowing modifications as needed to deal with sensitivity issues (protecting the child from sounds that hurt his ears or avoiding the use of fluorescent lights in the classroom);
      • Talking in a low whisper to a child with extreme auditory sensitivity;
      • Ensuring that this child is placed in a classroom location with the least amount of distraction (usually up at the front of the room, away from visual and auditory sources of “clutter”).

      May develop secondary issues with stress and anxiety
      • Previewing and preparing for all novel situations and transitions in advance;
      • Providing a consistent and predictable daily routine;
      • Gradually exposing this child to new activities, teachers, classes, schools, etc.;
      • Ensuring that this child is safe from physical and emotional abuse; · Avoiding sudden and unexpected surprises;
      • Thoroughly preparing the child in advance for field trips, modified schedules, or other changes, regardless of how minimal;
      • Talking the child through stressful situations or (non-punitively) removing her from the stressful situation;
      • Providing personal space in the resource room or other designated area for regrouping and relaxation.

      Imparts the “illusion of competency”
      • Providing a highly individualized educational program;
      • Applying age and grade-level expectations with flexibility;
      • Emphasizing the strong academic skills and gifts of the child with NLD by creating cooperative learning situations in which his proficient verbal, reading, oral spelling, vocabulary, and memory skills will be showcased to advantage (and his difficulties with writing can be de-emphasized);
      • Never assuming this child understands something just because he can parrot back what you have just said;
      • Never assuming this child understands what he has read, just because he is a “proficient” reader (has excellent word recognition);
      • Offering added verbal explanations when the child seems “lost” or registers obvious confusion.

      • Meg

        Thank you so much, Melissa. I think school psychologists in our state are limited to discussing scores only. I am planning on taking him to a private educational psychologist or neuropsycholgist. We have mentioned all these concerns to our regular pediatrician in the past, but he has mostly shrugged them off as quirks. Maybe I’m in denial, but I can’t help but feel like there is something weird in those vision scores-especially the matching. It’s hard to believe he’s essentially the lowest possible!
        Thank you for your encouragement on vision therapy.I know it’s a controversial treatment. I appreciate hearing good things about it from you. And thank you also for the articles. I know they will be helpful.

    • Just wanted to say, Hugs to You, Meg! It’s so hard to see your kiddo struggling and to get an evaluation done. We did this recently and, even though the results were helpful, I felt like my son had been “psychologically dissected.” When you get low scores it’s so easy to zero in on those and get panicked/teary and scared about the future. Try to step back and see him as his whole self. And, remember, you may be considering a lot of interventions, but those can be one step at a time. You have lots of time to work on this.

      • Meg

        Thank you for your kind words. I took the liberty of reading your blog, and I identified with everything you said on your, “About,” page. I have been awash in misery wondering if my son is disabled because of the drinks I had before I knew I was pregnant, or the depression I had after he was born. Our older son has always been in the, “Gifted,” program, and I come from a long line of intellectual snobs. lol
        But, just this evening my husband was looking at the general disaster in my work space, and he reminded me that I have a terrible time completing tasks and keeping records, and, oh, yeah-my kindergarten teacher wanted me to repeat because of my poor fine motor skills. My mother, God bless her, told her that she thought I would do better with reading and moved me on. So, you are right that I need to look at him as a whole child and take one step at a time. I actually taught special education very briefly, so I think my familiarity with these scores was part of what set me off. My head immediately saw that score in the 70s and went, “Oh, My Gosh…..: I’m not even sure I heard the rest of the meeting after that. We do have appointments scheduled with a center that works with children with learning disabilities and a vision therapist. I am going to try not to let the scores on a sheet of paper replace what I know to be true about my child. Sorry if this is a bit of a ramble on your post, Melissa. Feel free to delete if you want. Thank you both for your encouragement.

  • Blossum Rose

    Hi,

    We had our ds tested and using wisc-iv in percentile, he tested VCI 50th, math 75th, perceptual reasoning 98th and processing speed 88th with an FSIQ of 90th?

    I just don’t know if he is a kid with ADHD, HFA or a dyslexic…. He hates memorizing, has awful handwriting looks like a brick of letters, although we have been working on it and he has greatly improved. We read every day. I have placed him in private school and lahtough his behaviour has greatly improved, I am still unsure that this school is the best for him. Like sending him to see the principal when the handwriting is not up to par…He prefers the friendships of older kids one that can converse more on his level…

    • The WISC alone does not provide enough information to determine what kind of learning issue your son may be experiencing. I would suggest that you have a full neuropsychological evaluation. A full evaluation will be able to determine if there is a developmental or educational disability. It can be difficult to separate ADHD, HFA and dyslexia; only a trained professional with the correct assessment tools can provide that insight.

      • Blossum Rose

        Who would I go to to have these tools to complete a developmental or educational disability? Would that be our family doctor?

        Thanks in advance…

        Regards,
        Blossum Rose

      • Diagnosing a learning disability is a process. It involves testing, history taking, and observation by a trained specialist. Finding a reputable referral is important. Start with your child’s school, and if they are unable to help you, ask your insurance company, doctor, or friends and family who have dealt successfully with learning disabilities.
        Types of specialists who may be able to test for and diagnose learning disabilities include:
        • Clinical psychologists
        • School psychologists
        • Child psychiatrists
        • Educational psychologists
        • Developmental psychologists
        • Neuropsychologist

  • Lisa

    My 18-year-old daughter is a freshman at a selective college, and is finding herself struggling with the work. She is wondering if she might have some form of ADD/ADHD as she says she spends hours trying to work but doesn’t get much done. She was tested at age 7 for the gifted program in her school with the WISC-IV, with the following scores:
    Verbal comprehension: 138 (99%)
    Perceptual reasoning: 125 (95%)
    Working memory: 123 (94%)
    Processing speed: 94 (34%)

    They had concerns about the low processing speed score and we had a complete eye exam at that time to ensure it was not a vision problem, which it was not; I did not think much about it after that. She joined the gifted program and excelled in that and in school overall, although she always seemed to take more time doing homework than other students, and often took longer to complete tests in class; she participated in sports and band, and had lots of social activities. Her last year of high school was more challenging for her, but I attributed it to the stress of the college application process. Now in college she is really struggling.

    I’m wondering how to best get help for her, to identify if there is something else (like ADD/ADHD) behind the processing speed issue, and what she can do to improve her ability to handle her college work. She is in school in the Boston area, and we live in the Philadelphia area. Do you have any recommendations for providers or centers that could evaluate and assist her in one of these locations? Any information or resources you can provide would be great, thanks!

    • I would recommend she visit the student services center and see about getting an evaluation. Once an evaluation is done she can see what services she is eligible for . Here is a reply I wrote to another college student:

      Here are some suggestions for a college student with the Frustration profile.
 First I suggest you learn to use Inspiration and Dragon Speak Naturally to enable you to organize your thoughts and then dictate them into the computer. The recommendation below are from the article titled College Accommodations, while it is for students with ADHD many of the suggestions will be good for you.


      Classroom Accommodations:
•
      Tests:
Extended time on tests and assignments,
Testing in a separate and quiet place,
Testing over several sessions
. Use of a computer. 
Dividing an exam up into parts and allowing student to take them in two or three sessions over 1-2 days helps reduce the effect of fatigue and focus on one section at a time.

      
• Lectures:
Permission to record lectures,
Audio-taped text book,
Assistance with writing class notes (i.e., note taking service),
Reading assistance service (i.e., reading group)


      • Courses:
Written instructions from professors,
Priority registration with a professional in the disability services office,
The possibility of class substitution within the curriculum,
Reduced course load
Advance notice of assignments.
Textbooks on tape. 
Use of a calculator for math


      What students with learning issues can provide for themselves:

      • Choosing:
Right college: with good reasonable accommodations for students with ADHD,
-Support group for students with LD,
College with large number of ADHD-LD specialists,
College with many registered LD students. 
To disclose your LD diagnosis at the earliest possible opportunity and request appropriate accommodations including those that the school may not readily offer but you can justify the need.


      • Contact:
School’s office of disability and be familiar with its resources;
Health officials to provide them with documentations that prove your LD status and proof that LD affects your academic performance;
 Writing center and utilize it properly;
P rofessors beyond the classroom, make use of office hours, if only to introduce yourself. Set up appointments to clarify assignments.

      
• Find:
How and where to access support from tutors, whether on campus or online;
Healthy study environment early on: proper time management (including a schedule that includes time for studying, socializing and exercising), distraction free study environment;
 A study buddy or study group: sign up for classes with friends, or make friends in the classes you have so that you will support each other in and out of class;
An academic coach (through the college counseling office or privately) that will check in with you throughout the week to ensure success.
REPLY

  • My nearly 14 y.o. son took the WISC-IV at age 10.5. His scores were:

    Verbal Comprehension 124
    Perceptual Reasoning 135
    Working Memory 146
    Processing Speed 100
    Full Scale IQ 134 (GAI was 135)

    On his Processing Speed subtests he scored a 9 on coding and an 11 on Symbol Search. For Working Memory, his digit span was 22 and Arithmetic 14.

    On his WJ-III taken at the same time he scored the following:

    Broad Math 132
    Calculation 137
    Applied Probs 132
    Fluency 94

    Broad Reading 108
    Letter Word ID 123
    Passage Comp 94 (he took this again a year ago and scored 132)
    Fluency 99

    Broad Writing 120
    Spelling 120
    Writing Samples 119
    Fluency 112

    When he was in 1st-3rd grade, he had some severe issues with his handwriting – no spacing, difficult to read, no capitalization or punctuation, etc, and I suspected dysgraphia but before we could really find someone to diagnose him his handwriting improved.

    I have always thought that he takes an inordinate amount of time on his homework, but in my mind, I put it off because he has a tendency to be a perfectionist, and I did not think about it too much. He has also been a very reluctant writer and takes a very, very long time to write a paragraph or two.

    He has been accelerated several years in Math and last year when taking high school exams, he received much lower grades on the exams than he had been carrying in class (B+ and B- compared to the A that he had going into the exam.) When I spoke to his teacher about it, she said that the vast majority of the problems that he missed were at the end of the exams, and asked me if he ran out of time. When I asked him, he said that was the case. This started ringing bells with me and I went back to look at his Processing Speed scores, and low and behold, saw the over 2 SD difference between the Processing Speed and FSIQ, Perceptual Reasoning, and almost 2 SD difference between Verbal Comp and Processing Speed.

    In looking at his WJ-III scores, I also noticed that his fluency scores for Math were 2 SD away from the broad score, and the fluency in reading was about 2 SD from his highest reading subtest. I believe that lower fluency scores can also be indicative of slow processing speed.

    (As an aside, his younger brother, who has virtually the same Verbal Comp, Perceptual Reasoning and GAI, has just recently been diagnosed with dyslexia – and we are currently in discussions and testing with the school to see if we can get some accomodations for him. This has been difficult because younger brother also gets As and Bs, and the school views him as an average student, even though he should be performing at a much higher level.)

    This year, several times in his math class, he has been very short on time during quizzes and tests. His math teacher does not always return the quizzes and tests, so it is difficult to see if he is missing the problems due to lack of time, but I suspect this is the case. Homework seems to be taking up a lot of time in the evenings and just the other day he mentioned to me that it seems to take him longer to read books than it does his friends.

    So, I started a discussion with the school psychologist to see where we should go from here since it seems fairly obvious to me that he has a processing speed issue, and I wanted to try to get a 504 in place. The psychologist said that there was nothing to be done because of course his teachers don’t see any issue since he gets straight As. His current math teacher was very uncooperative with me when I asked her for information.

    I am concerned that this is becoming more of an issue as his subject work gets harder. He is currently an 8th grader, but about 1/2 of his classes are high school classes, and he spends most of the evening on homework. Not to mention that especially in math, he seems to be running out of time on tests. I don’t want this to be an issue when he takes the SAT or ACT, or when in 10th grade he starts taking college math courses. I suspect that his extraordinary working memory is helping him in his other classes. When he has to write something, he also takes a long time, which of course would not be aided by his memory.

    We are contemplating having him tested for dyslexia as well, but hoping to get somewhere on the processing issue.

    I noticed that in a blog post on 10/29/11 you stated “When the WISC-IV Verbal Comprehension Index score is more than 15 points higher than the Processing Speed Index score there should be no problem getting a 504, which allows extra time on tests.” We are certainly in this situation – can you share with me what I can do to convince the school psychologist that he needs a plan?

    Any suggestions that you have would be greatly appreciated? Thanks in advance.

    • Looking at the scores you have presented, you son may qualify for a Specific Learning Disorder in Reading (Fluency)-mild and Math (fluency)- mild. The DSM-5 has updated the diagnoses for learning disabilities and added fluency as a factor for reading and math. If your son has slow visual motor skills, which cause him to write slowly, he may qualify for a Developmental Coordination Disorder. Most likely you will need to update the report, as most scores are considered valid for 3 years. You can discuss with the examiner your son’s difficulty completing tasks in a timely manner and his need for extra time on tests. Once you have the recommendations and the report you can share them with the school.

      Processing Speed issues are a hidden disability. Smart, hard working student are able to succeed, but the personal cost is high. Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up: Help Your Child Overcome Slow Processing Speed and Succeed in a Fast-Paced World
      by Ellen Braaten PhD and Brian Willoughby PhD is an excellent resource.

  • Sarah

    My 8-year old son takes a long time to process his thoughts. For instance, when a waitress asks him for his order, he will pause for a minute or two. He rarely finishes his classwork. His teachers have labeled him a “deep thinker” and have expressed the regret that they can’t give him more time to work. Learning to read has come relatively slowly. He hates to sound out words and has always tried to jump to reading the whole word (often guessing the wrong word based on just a few of the letters.) He gets VERY frustrated (which is not typical of him, as he keeps his feelings to himself) when asked to sound out a word. The other day, he did an entire sheet of subtraction backwards (e.g. he thought 15-7 was 7-15.)

    We have always written off his slowness to perfectionism and introversion, which both seem to be an issue for him. He likes to master tasks before demonstrating them. He even mastered walking before letting go of support. Learning to read has been painful, as he has had to demonstrate reading aloud in class when it was still a struggle for him. His reading has improved a lot recently, but it still seems that he’s relying on whole word mastery rather than phonics.

    Recently, his school standardized testing came back. His MAP scores on Math were 97th percentile. 85 percentile on Reading. His Dibels scores on nonsense words were so far below benchmark that they were outside of the normal range. This is consistent with past performance. We had attributed this to his introversion/perfectionism (the Dibels test is performed by a person and is timed, whereas the MAP is computerized and untimed). However, we’re now wondering if we should rule out dyslexia and/or a processing speed deficit.

    We are trying to figure out what is going on for him. We are considering testing but want to be sure that we do the right battery of tests so that we can try to pull apart his personality and emotional functioning from his cognitive functioning. Do you have any thoughts on this? What would you like to see included in a test for a child like this?

    I understand that you must get more questions than you are able to address. I appreciate your time, either way.

    • I do think having your son evaluated is a good idea. You can check with your school or doctor for a recommendation. Since you are interested in his cognitive, academic and emotional levels make sure you interview the person who will be doing evaluation to ensure they do psychological testing within the neuro-psychological battery. I can’t give a list of tests to be included as there are many tests that measure similar skills. Most neuro-psych evaluations will include:
      • Cognitive testing with Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) to get his potential.
      • Academic testing will measure reading, writing and math skills.
      o Since reading is a issue assessing phonic skills should be included
      • Since you are concerned about processing speed make sure there are measures of reading, writing and math fluency.
      o a comparison of a structured writing task vs. an unstructured task can provide helpful information about task initiation and mental organization.
      • You should also discuss with the tester measuring verbal and visual fluency, as well as executive functioning skills- including rapid naming.
      • Attention should also be assessed, it worth ruling out inattention as a factor in his processing speed.
      • Assessing visual-motor skills helps separate visual processing issues from motor issues.
      • Visual and verbal memory, and delayed recall, should be included.
      • Personality assessment, including temperament and anxiety.

      I hope this helps.

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