About processing speed

Processing speed is how quickly you can take in and understand information, and respond to that information. Processing speed does not refer to how ‘smart’ a child is – it is about how quickly they can process and respond to verbal or visual information. Children with developmental disabilities may tend to take longer than other students to respond to instructions, or to complete tasks (including tasks they know well). They might not always keep up with class discussions, and they may struggle with time management. Some children may also experience anxiety related to not being able to think and respond quickly and this anxiety can then cause further challenges for their ability to process information.

Evidence-based strategies

  • Allow more time. Give more time to complete tasks. Allowing more time for them to finish tasks, and avoiding timed tests, can provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their understanding.
  • Create a consistent daily routine. Rules and routines help a child know what is planned for the day so that they know what to do if they have missed instructions. Consider using a daily visual schedule with a timer/clock that students can see at all times. Access AllPlay Learn’s teacher schedule.
  • Get students to re-read things. “Repeated reading”, or getting students to re-read material, may be helpful for students who take more time to read and process written information.
  • Repeat and simplify instructions. Use simple words and repeat. Consider breaking down big tasks into smaller ones. For example, give step-by-step instructions or visual instructions (i.e. pictures). It may be helpful to check their understanding before moving on to the next step or activity. For example, ask them to repeat instructions or answer questions.
  • Use visual instructions. Visual instructions about how to do something might be needed. Consider using a visual schedule, written notes, poster or video to outline or model the task.
  • Offer fewer tasks with more opportunities to practise. This is better than offering many tasks with little opportunity to practise.
  • Best practice tips

  • Some students may need extra time for reading or writing.
  • Check in with students to see how they’re travelling. Some children may need adjustments to the teaching pace, their goals or the level of support given.
  • Children who are aware they do not answer or complete tasks as quickly as other children may feel anxious about this. Providing reassurance regularly that it is okay to “take your time” to answer, and avoiding statements that may make them feel rushed (i.e. “hurry up”, “quickly”) may help them feel less anxious.
  • Other considerations

  • Homework may be challenging for some students. When setting homework consider what types of activities they could complete within a set time or to a set standard.
  • Children with thinking skills challenges may also experience anxiety, intellectual disability, specific learning disability, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism.
  • Refer to information about these areas to help support the child.
  • Relevant resources

    Visit our resources page for a range of resources that can help to create inclusive education environments for children with disabilities and developmental challenges. Some particularly relevant resources for children with processing speed issues include:

    Strengths and abilities communication checklist
    Student self-monitoring form
    Class schedule

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