Processing speed refers to the pace and automaticity with which the student accumulates, assimilates, and integrates incoming information; retrieves information stored in long-term memory; and performs cognitive tasks. Processing speed influences attention, executive functions, memory, academic achievement, behavior, and social competence. Cognitive processing speed gradually increases throughout childhood and adolescence. Behaviors suggestive of adequate processing speed include: processing oral/written information rapidly/fluently/automatically, sustaining attention to task, understanding and following instructions/explanations, retrieving on demand information stored in long-term memory, finishing tasks/activities/assignments/tests in the allotted time, and attending to/understanding/participating in social interactions.
Underarousal/Slow Cognitive Processing Speed/Sluggish Cognitive Tempo
- Underarousal and slow cognitive processing speed impact the ability to sustain focused attention, to quickly and efficiently assimilate information, and to perform tasks fluently and automatically. Retrieval of information from long-term memory may be slow and require extra effort, thereby reducing the resources available to manipulate and integrate material. Slow processing speed may be experienced in one or more academic areas or be observed when the student is required to process information through the weakest modality (auditory, visual, tactile, motor). Research suggests that students with ADHD have processing speed deficits. A sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) or slow speed of processing, characterizes ¼ to ½ of students with ADHD, Inattentive type. Cognitive slowing may also be associated with TS and OCD.
- Recognize that the student who lacks physical and mental energy is underaroused and insufficiently alert to perform adequately in the classroom.
- Determine if underarousal or a speed of processing deficit underlies the student’s slowness in completing tasks and activities or if it is related to another problem (e.g., tic, obsession, compulsion, inattention, perfectionism, reflective cognitive style, graphomotor impairment, working memory deficit, sleep disorder). A neuropsychological evaluation may be required.
- Assess whether slow processing speed is format-specific (verbal, visual, tactile, motor) and/or content-specific (reading, writing, math, history, literature, science).
- Consult with the teacher(s) from the previous year to find out which interventions increased alertness.
- Teach strategies for recognizing and modifying arousal levels. Suggest that the student:
– Self-monitor alertness (e.g., feelings of tiredness, lethargy, or reduced attention in contrast to those of anticipation, excitement, energy, or full concentration).
– Compare task requirements to the level of arousal required (e.g., alertness needed to read a chapter in the textbook, write a term paper, listen to music).
– Adjust arousal if alertness is not congruent with task demands.
– Complete short segments of work with mobility breaks (read 10 pages, take a break).
– Utilize a computer when appropriate to increase interest and attention.
– Have a protein snack (e.g., cheese and crackers) before studying.
- Provide many opportunities for *movement to stimulate alertness.
– Use interactive teaching activities such as class discussions, group projects, and electronic whiteboards.
– Permit changing work sites.
– Give short movement breaks (e.g., stand up, reach for the sky, stretch arms and shoulders, touch toes, twist waist).
– Ask the student to make a trip to the office, take a note to another teacher, sharpen pencils, hand out materials, collect papers, or get a drink.
– Suggest pressing hands together, doing pushups against the wall, kneading modeling clay, carrying heavy objects, or rearranging classroom furniture.
- Capitalize on the student’s learning preferences when assigning academic tasks. Many students with ADHD are underaroused when confronted with dull, “boring,” repetitive tasks, class work, and homework. These students need the stimulation of new, different, and interesting assignments that offer immediate reward to maintain arousal.
– Offer a variety of materials and methods of instruction through different modalities.
– Alternate seatwork with other kinds of learning activities by creating learning centers, labs, or stations in the classroom.
– Use games and hands-on projects.
– Vary the pace and change tasks frequently.
– Follow less interesting tasks with more interesting tasks. Have the student complete the first less interesting assignment before being allowed to perform the second more interesting work.
– Allow the student to quietly recite the instructions or think aloud while following through on tasks.
– Using self-directed speech increases alertness. Arrange a place to work where subvocalization will not disturb the other students.
- Reduce the length and requirements of class assignments. Completing assignments is very tiring and frustrating for the student who processes information slowly.
– Provide work that can easily be completed.
– Divide lengthy assignments into smaller, more manageable segments that appear as several independent tasks.
– Assign shorter tasks requiring accuracy and quality of response.
– Design cooperative learning activities so that the student does not have to work on an entire assignment alone.
– Permit use of a word processor, calculator, or tape recorder.
- Modify the manner in which directions are delivered.
- Present verbal information at a slower-than-normal rate.
- Pause frequently to allow time between statements for the material to be processed.
- Be alert for confusion and loss of focus. Repeat, rephrase, or summarize material periodically.
- Allow sufficient time to formulate verbal responses.
– Pose a question to the class, call upon another classmate, then ask the student to respond.
– Provide in advance a list of questions or topics that will be discussed during the lesson.
- Schedule frequent practice and rehearsal of cognitive and academic skills until mastered. When information is automatized, speed of processing increases.
©2009, Tigers, Too, Marilyn Dornbush, Ph.D. and Sheryl K. Pruitt, M.Ed., ET/P