Helping Kids with Processing Issues


I'm a Learning Coach who works with students with learning differences. What specific techniques help students who have processing issues? My slow processors struggle with timed tests at school. How can I get teachers to understand that these students crumble under the pressure of being timed?

Donna Rae Woods

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Lydia Soifer, Ph.D

Dr. Soifer was Director of the Soifer Center for Learning and Child Development for 25 years, and provides educational consultation and advocacy services. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Helping a child whose processing speed is slow comes down to modifying the rate, tone, and complexity of what you say. This allows the child more time to make sense of what he’s hearing. Although it sounds simple, doing that can be challenging. Be careful not to talk down to the child, as that will serve to create discomfort and send the wrong message. Be alert to how much information you are giving and how fast you are presenting it. You’ll know you are on the right track if the youngster gets it after a moment. Similarly, you’ll know you’re not there if he looks at you as if to say, “Why are you talking to me that way?” or if you hear a lilting tone in your remarks. It takes a bit of practice, but it is worth the effort.

Show & Tell

As for the second part of your question, processing difficulties are difficult for teachers to see and understand. As language is based on experience, I suggest providing the teachers with experiences that allow them to grasp the issue in concrete ways.

When I do this, I explain that I am a native New Yorker and begin to speak very fast. While talking at breakneck speed, I ask if they would like me to teach them something crucial at this pace, that they will be tested on later. No one ever says, “Yes.” I then shift to a slow, modulated pace with pauses just long enough to make people lean forward. They quickly get the idea. Finally, I ask how they felt when pressed to attend or respond or perform. All say that they felt overwhelmed or anxious. At that point, the idea of timed tests takes on a new aura for teachers. They begin to see how the combination of processing speed and emotional response does not allow the children to demonstrate their best abilities.

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