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Consequences of poor processing speed

Consequences of poor processing speed

Processing speed refers to the rate at which information travels across the brain. It involves the function of processing information automatically, quickly and unconsciously.

It denotes the ability to perform simple, repeated cognitive tasks quickly and automatically. Such tasks may include tests that require easy and quick decisions, i.e. speed and accuracy in data handling.

Information processing speed problems become evident during a task and not during the initial learning stage. This is because slow processing speed is connected with a reduced ability to perform an assignment automatically.

Processing speed affects attention, executive tasks, memory, academic performance, behaviour and social skills.

Cognitive processing speed increases gradually throughout childhood and adolescence.

Researchers have not identified yet which aspects of neurophysiology relate to information processing. However, processing speed can be influenced by the pace at which information flows through neural circuits.

For an effective scientific intervention, it is necessary to identify the cause(s) of poor processing speed:

  • Motor skills (visual-motor coordination)
  • Visual disorders
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Poor nutrition or special problems, including iron deficiency
  • Stress caused by self-doubt and perfectionism
  • External distractions, including noise and light
  • Constant carelessness or absence of mind
  • Activation, the ability to get started on a task
  • Motivation and persistence to complete tasks
  • Reasoning
  • Working memory
  • Learning difficulties (two-thirds of children with learning difficulties have slower processing speeds)
  • Physical issues, diseases (low thyroid levels)
  • Use of some medicines
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Understanding the factors of slow processing speed can contribute to the development of a customized, supportive intervention program that will use or adapt the appropriate rehabilitation strategies. 

Consequences of poor processing speed

Slow processing speed can considerably affect performance both during school years and in adulthood. It can cause pupils to experience frustration, as they know how to do their schoolwork, but just can’t make a decision about the next steps. As a result, they may develop a poor self-concept and run the risk of disengaging or dropping out of school, since they feel unable to compete academically with peers.

Consequences of poor processing speed

Processing speed deficits may also mask the abilities of gifted children and affect the development of social relations (friendship ties).

Teachers can significantly assist these children by reducing the volume of work the latter are required to do, and by changing the way they are assessed. If modifications or adjustments are not put in place and children are not supported appropriately at school and at home, this may impact the rest of their lives.

Characteristics of children with poor processing speed

Processing skills are crucial in almost all learning activities, particularly those connected with reading, writing, maths and social functioning. Children with poor processing speed are slower and less fluent than same-aged peers when:

  • comparing or scanning visual information such as letters, words, numbers, symbols, patterns or pictures, for similarities or differences;
  • performing basic arithmetic;
  • reading and comprehending words and texts;
  • writing words or dictation;
  • copying from the board or from a text;
  • doing things in the correct order;
  • starting and finishing work in class;
  • starting and finishing an activity;
  • learning routines;
  • relating to others;
  • completing tests;

The eBook Intervention Strategies for Improving Processing Speed is a  complete, essential guide for understanding and developing the processing speed of school-age children. With over 100 worksheets and performance review forms, it proposes effective practical approaches to boosting cognitive efficiency.

Alice Kassotaki - Speech Language Pathologist MSc, BSc


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