Is your child not finishing their work in class? It could be an issue with processing speed…

May 9, 2018

Working memory is one of the aspects cognitive ability tested in a comprehensive assessment. A child with working memory difficulties will need strategies supports at school in order to be able to learn and achieve. 

In my last blog, I talked about working memory and its impact on learning and daily life.

In this blog I’ll look at another important ability that may affect a child’s ability to learn and achieve: ‘processing speed’.

What is processing speed?

Processing speed is pretty much what it sounds like: a person’s ability to effectively process and respond to information. It refers to the speed of a child’s mental and motor processing, and it is a measure of cognitive efficiency and automaticity.

Having efficient and automatic cognitive processing is important to get things done quickly and efficiently. It’s not a perfect analogy but if you think of your computer, there are processes running in the background in order for you to be able to do your work. If the system is slow and inefficient, then your work can be slowed down, you have to wait to do each step, and sometimes the whole thing crashes.

Processing speed at school

If your child has poor processing speed, at school they may:

  • have difficulties with processing spoken instructions
  • take a long time for things to ‘click’
  • exhibit a slow and laborious reading style
  • may be able to come to the correct answer but take much longer than his/her peers
  • often struggle to finish work in the allocated time

If a child has slower processing, it means that each step of a cognitive task takes longer. For instance, when you give your child an instruction to do something, there are a number of things that they have to process: what was the instruction, what part do i do first, what comes next, and so on.

Children with slower processing speed often lose their place in a task and then get distracted. Or take too long with each step so that time runs out before they can finish the task. Obviously this has an impact on their academic progress. At times I come across children with slow processing speed who are ‘failing’ in a subject simply because they did not complete enough work for the teacher to accurately assess their skills.


It is important to get appropriate support for children with processing difficulties. Cognitive and educational assessment can investigate a child’s processing speed in relation to their learning. There are a number of strategies that can be put in place to support slower processing speed in the classroom and at home, so that children can progress and function more efficiently.

Please contact Attuned Psychology if you have any concerns about your child’s learning or cognitive processing, as an assessment may help clarify what your child’s needs are, which is a start to providing the right support for their success.

Rebecca Rossi


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