Slow processing speed among hyperactive kids: Issues and remedies

Teaching them ‘self-talk’ to control behaviour would help them understand the situation better, process information efficiently, and react appropriately.
Last Updated : 13 May 2024, 20:51 IST
Last Updated : 13 May 2024, 20:51 IST

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It is generally assumed that children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are quick to react and respond and hyper in their movements. Impulsivity, inattention, gross motor overactivity, and poor organizational abilities are important features of ADHD children.

However, research also shows that many of these children show slow processing speed, particularly ADHD children with inattentiveness. Processing speed refers to the time it takes to take in information, make sense of it, and respond. The information can be visual, verbal, or motor.

It can also be defined as the time required to perform a cognitive task or the amount of work that can be completed within a specified period. Processing speed problems affect many areas of life, leading to academic, behavioural, and emotional difficulties, particularly among children with ADHD. Processing speed difficulties are seen more in boys than in girls.

The many difficulties

Children with slow processing speed (SPS) are usually assumed to have poor intelligence, but this is not always true. There is a lot of importance on doing things quickly, and individuals with a slow processing speed find it difficult to live with a nervous system that needs more time to process information.

Social difficulties are also commonly noticed among them, as social interactions depend on our ability to respond quickly to visual and verbal information. All children with slow processing speed do not show problems with social skills, and the impairment can vary greatly. The problems they show may be something like taking longer to pick up social cues, thus missing the point of the social exchange. Interactions can seem awkward because figuring out a response takes them a long time.

They lose track of what’s happening during group games, causing their friends to become frustrated with them; they show slow retelling of stories or telling jokes, causing their peers to lose interest in what they are saying.

They have problems with time management, leading their parents and teachers to become exasperated with them. Slow work performance and completion make it difficult when working within a group and on group assignments.

Diagnosing and remedies

Various assessment tools can measure processing speed, which includes reaction time, visual scanning, ability to learn new material, recall abilities, and motor speed. Processing temporal information involves various levels of analysis, from simply perceiving the passage of short duration to higher cognitive processes such as planning or anticipating.

If the child is known to have a slow processing speed and parents and teachers want them to enhance their functioning, some strategies and supports can help them cope with the problem.

One is to practise a specific skill as much as possible. The more automatic a task is, the quicker it is to process. This applies to everything from tying shoelaces to learning multiplication tables. The more you do a task, the faster you get at it. 

Putting more emphasis on planning and organising can also help the child be more efficient at routine tasks. We can also help by keeping things consistent and predictable. Sticking to routines means less new information for the child to process. Constantly reminding them to do their tasks should benefit them.

What schools can do

In India, schools claim to be inclusive, but not much happens practically with these children. Schools with counselling services and remedial teachers can attempt to help these children, but we need more school counsellors to enhance learning among these children. The learning gaps can be assessed in remedial classes, and the concepts can be repeated and given more time to complete the notes. Schools can accommodate them by giving them extra time for tests or exams.

Modifications in the classroom and homework assignments may include shortened assignments to compensate for the time they take to complete, extended time to complete assignments, reduced amount of written work, or breaking down assignments and long-term projects into segments with separate due dates for each segment.

Positive behaviour management strategies (frequent monitoring, feedback, prompts, redirection, and reinforcement or reward) can help students maintain positive motivation. Frequent communication between the teacher and parents about the child’s performance and conduct in school would help the child stay on track.

These children also have difficulty controlling their emotions. They are impulsive in expressing emotions and slow to process social interactions. They can get confused in a new social environment and react inappropriately.

Teaching them ‘self-talk’ to control behaviour would help them understand the situation better, process information efficiently, and react appropriately. Social skills training would also benefit them. With all the support from family, peers, and teachers, they should be able to adjust well by early adulthood.

(The author is an associate professor at the Department of Psychology, Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru)

Published 13 May 2024, 20:51 IST

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