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.

86 Responses

  1. Ruth Diaz

    Hi, I’m an SLP and will be working with an 8 year old girl. Below is info I currently have: Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fifth Edition (WISC-V)
    Composite Standard Score Percentile Rank Confidence Interval Range
    Verbal Comprehension 108 70 100-115 Average
    Visual Spatial 102 55 94-109 Average
    Fluid Reasoning 88 21 82-96 Low Average
    Working Memory 112 77 79 High Average
    Processing Speed 77 6 71-89 Very Low
    Full Scale IQ 94 34 89-100 Average

    Speech eval revealed: “Deficits in understanding of grammatical rules at the sentence level and within a sentence context.” “Deficits in picture card sequencing and narrative generation skills.”

    Any suggestions as to how to best address speech language goals while taking into consideration processing speed and fluid reasoning performance on assessments?

    Thank you.

  2. Patricia Winik

    My 14 year old daughter was diagnosed 2 years ago with executive function issues (very slow processing speed and very low visual learning ability,) and ADD. Things were okay with a 504 and ADD medication until this fall she began high school. Now she has slipped backwards, forgetting to hand things in, unable to plan and study for tests/quizzes, as well as usual things such as difficulty dechunking assignments and questions so that she can answer them. She is being tutored for academics, and my question is – is an executive function coach worthwhile? We tried one, and found it ineffective. Just went to another facility yesterday, where they charge $110/hour and the EF coach said she would help organize her notebook and with her homework, which is not what I feel I can or will pay that money for. I find myself wondering if any of the self proclaimed coaches for EF/ADD issues really do anything? Feeling very frustrated. I wish I could afford and drive her to the wonderful private schools in my area for kids with learning differences.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      The issue of whether a tutor/coach/educational therapist/educational specialist/ADHD coach/EF coach is worth the price is dependent on results. I run a learning center that specializes in working with students with learning challenges. We have educational specialists and Academic coaches. My specialists and coaches all deal with EF issues as so many of our students struggle to plan, organize and follow through on their work. What I have found is that sometimes it takes more than once or twice a week coaching sessions to make the changes needed. The trick is to find someone who is invested in your daughter learning the skills she needs and who can keep adapting the plan until one that works is found. Daily checks ins and parents being aware of what needs to be done can help. Read my article Executive functioning skills: How To Get Your Child To Follow The Plan for more information on this process.

  3. Victoria

    Hi Melissa,
    What an interesting article. My 5 year old reads ahead of her level but is poor at drawing/writing activities and I see number reversals a lot. Also tends to comment that she is ‘slow’ at doing things and is conscious about it. She gets easily distracted when working on a task. Can talk loudly in places where she needs to use her inside voice and can be clumsy/not aware of a cup of water on the table that may fall if she pulls the table mat. She loves reading, music and gymnastic type of activities but avoids challenging activities.
    Any suggestions on what I could do to help her in these areas?
    Thanks much!

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      I would focus on building her fine motor skills. Enroll her in a fun art class,
      Here are some suggestions for Building Fine Motor/ Writing Skills
      o Handwriting without Tears
      o Retrain the Brain
      o Provide practice in activities that involve hand-eye coordination, including pencil-and-paper tasks. Provide opportunities for practice, and alternate timed and untimed tasks.
      • Finding hidden words or objects in picture puzzles
      • Mazes
      • Tangrams
      • Visual matching worksheets

  4. Meg

    Hi, Melissa,
    I can’t find the comment I left earlier this year, but I wanted to follow up at any rate! Our son has NVLD and dysgraphia We have also learned that he has inattentive type ADHD, and he is in speech for articulation and pragmatics. He just recently had the WISC V, which clarified some things for us and affirmed most of what we are doing.
    But, I am wondering specifically what we can be doing at school and his various therapies to improve his processing speed. He does go to vision therapy, as well as OT, and he works with a private tutor on spelling. At school he gets speech and writing help, in addition to various accommodations. Academically, he is above grade level in reading and right at grade level in everything else, except the writing, which is just awful. I don’t think we can add another therapy right now, but I wonder if there are some specific things we should make sure he is doing, particularly at OT. I also wonder if there are things we could be doing at home.
    Scores for your reference-VCI 116 Similarities 14 91st vocabulary 12 75th WMI 107 Digit span 10 50th Picture span 12 75th VSI 105 Block Design 8 25th Visual Puzzles 14 91st FRI 100 Matrix reasoning 10 50th Figure Weights 10 50th PSI 86 18th coding 9th Symbol search 37th
    He was given a slew of other tests as well that documented his visual processing difficulties and also difficulty with Inhibition when the switching demand is added.
    Appreciate any thoughts as to whether we are prioritizing things appropriately.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      It sounds like you have many great interventions in progress. I’m not sure how old your son is so I will suggest interventions geared toward 3-7th grade. I like Re-train the Brain for fine motor skills development. You can do it at home for 10 minutes a day and get results. I found a great app on the app store Brain Trainer Tune Up Your Left and Right Brain which will help with inhibition and speed up the visual/language loop. The app is based on the Stroop Effect. You are already doing vision and occupational therapy so I don’t think you need to do much more now.

      When the therapies are done you can add in Inspiration to help organize writing and Dragon Dictate to allow him to dictate rather than write his assignments. Finally, with a non-verbal learning disability you want to be making sure that he understand how things relate to each other. That is getting the “big picture” of what he is learning. Here are some fun games that can help:

      Q-bitz: Anyone who has taken the WISC IQ test will recognize this game as the Block Design test. I played it with my two children last night and they had lots of fun. My son who has some mild visual issues was a bit frustrated until I showed him how to “see” the relationship between the individual blocks and the design on the cards. Once he understood that he took off. We allowed a handicap for the youngest player of a four-block head start to even out the skills difference.

      Blik BlokMindWare Blik-Blok provides 3-D dimensional puzzles to be solved. Visual imaging skills are important for math, writing and reading comprehension. The ability to mentally rotate and “see” how the pieces go together develops the internal visualizations skills used to imagine how to create and develop novel ideas.

      Gobblet Junior is a hyped up tic-tac-toe game. The goal is the same as tic-tac-toe, to get four in a row, or three in a row on Gobblet Jr. The twist is that you have 4 (or 3) sizes of pieces that can “gobble” up another piece smaller than it. This game is quick to start playing, but your skills can continue to develop as you discover more strategies to win. I think that Gobblet Jr. is best for 10 year olds and under. Gobblet is a game everyone can have fun playing.

      Mastermind Game — The Strategy Game of Codemaker vs. Codebreaker — Can You Crack the Code? Can You Crack the Code?”>Mastermind has been around for a while, but it continues to be a favorite. To win quickly, deductive reasoning skills are needed.

      Rush Hour, The Ultimate Traffic Jam Game; Deluxe Edition (2006) is a wonderful one-person game. There are a number of puzzle cards, in increasing order of difficulty, to solve.

      Connect 4has become a classic at our office. The challenge of winning depends on the skills of your opponent.

      Ravensburger Labyrinth is one of my favorites. I love the way paths are changed when players push their cards on the board. The constantly changing mazes challenge players to re-evaluate their plan after each move.

      Othello outcome can change at the last minute of the game. Othello rewards players who can think ahead and gain access to key positions on the board.

      Pix Mixrequires players to quickly see visual options available. It is fun to try to see what objects are in the holders. My family laughed out loud at some of the things we thought we saw!

      SET: The Family Game of Visual Perception requires quick thinking and visual processing. Set builds categorization skills as the players try to get rid of all of their cards by matching them to target cards.

      Spot It requires you to be quick and fast. When you spot a card with a match you say the name of the pictures that match before anyone else does.

  5. Rachel

    Hello Melissa,

    We just discovered that our college student has a processing speed disability that has nearly derailed his college career. He is otherwise a very bright articulate young man with no other learning or behavioral challenges. He is an auditory learner. WAIS-IV scores: Verbal comprehension 126, perceptual reasoning 116, working memory 130, processes speed 83. WAIS discrepancy showed significance discrepancies between everything except Verbal Comprehension and Working Memory. The most significant of the WAIS discrepancies were all of those involving Processing Speed.

    We would like to teach him the skills he needs over the summer to go back to school with confidence – preferably tools that stay away from the computer. I am having difficulty finding resources appropriate for a young adult. Please let me know your recommendations.

    Thank you,

  6. Megan B

    Dr. Mullin-
    I am trying to make sense of some recent assessments we had done on our son. He is a very bright and creative child who is excelling at a gifted school. When he was six, he was tested and scored an overall WISC V score of 135. We have been dealing with emotional sensitivity and attention issues so recently had him evaluated. There was a huge discrepancy between his working memory (146) and processing speed (95). Verbal comp was 113, fluid reasoning 112, and visual spatial 119. Unfortunately, we were not provided any insight into what this particular range of scores could indicate. They said the low processing speed supports ADHD. But I have read that working memory is also usually a factor and his is quite high. His overall score (119) is also much lower than previous tests, all of which makes me wonder if there were some issue with this particular test. In any event, I was wondering if you have any insight into the huge discrepancy.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      Your son has a very high working memory score, so he can hold and work with information easily. The WISC alone can not be used to determine ADHD, an evaluation of his performance and behavior in school and at home is needed. I would investigate his attention further.

  7. Carla

    Not sure if you are still answering questions on here or not, but it’s worth a try. I have an almost 15 year old daughter who is brilliant. She was a very active child and drove me nuts…in a good way :-). She was homeschooled entirely until this year. She now takes two classes at the public high school and is homeschooled for the rest. Her grades in public school are amazing…..often more than 100% on tests. She is a friendly, talkative, mature child. She is mature beyond her years in many things. She is not your “typical teenager”. She is an amazingly gifted musician (flute, piano and voice). If she does something, she does it well. She can’t remember to do what I ask of her unless she can do it right away, but if she does remember, I can be sure it is done with excellence. Here’s the deal…..she takes FOREVER to read anything. She is always the last one done with her tests in school even though she always gets A’s. For her homeschool history, she has to read approx. 5-7 pages per lesson. The book is normal 8.5×11 size. Nothing really huge. She breaks the reading into several days because it takes her so long to read those pages. She will take over 30 minutes to read just three pages. She has an amazing memory, but her speed is starting to cause issues for her. I don’t know if there is a problem that’s needs addressed or if this is normal behavior for a gifted child. I don’t even know where to start with trying to figure it out. School counselor? Psychologist? Leave her alone? Medicine? I would LOVE your thoughts on how to help her. Thank you!!!!

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      I suggest you do a reading evaluation that measures auditory processing and visual skills ( including eye tracking skills). Your daughter is very bright and she may be compensating for an underlying reading issue or visual processing issue.

  8. 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.

  9. Barbara dotson

    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

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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:

  12. 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.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  15. 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?

  16. 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


    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.”

  17. 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.

  18. 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%)

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  19. 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. : )

  20. Deanna Reynolds

    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.

  21. 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!

      • 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. Tracy

    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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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?

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  33. 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?

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  34. 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,

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  35. 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

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  36. 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.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

  37. 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.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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!

  38. jmeyer22

    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.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      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.

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