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How to address the written aspect of processing speed


Processing speed is one of the most frustrating and misunderstood learning disabilities. Many students with slow processing speed are smart but can’t demonstrate their true intelligence on time tests. In addition, the slow processing speed makes homework laborious and time-consuming.  The student described below is clearly very bright. However, she is unable to compensate for her area of weakness when there is a heavy written load. The issue for this student is to speed up her written output.

I recently had my daughter tested. She has extremely slow processing speed which manifest primarily in the area of written work. She does fine with multiple choice, fill in the blank and verbal responses. Timed math test and short answer problems are difficult to complete. Any advice on how to address the written aspect of processing speed?

Verbal Comprehension 121 Visual Spatial- 129 Fluid Reasoning 123 Working Memory 120 Processing Speed 63 Full Scale IQ- 122 General Abilities Index- 126

The first consideration for students with slow processing speed is to see if they qualify as a student with a  developmental coordination disorder (DCD). This diagnoses has 4 diagnostic criteria, as follows:

  1. Development and level of coordinated motor skills are below what would be expected for child’s age; difficulty with clumsiness, slowness and inaccuracy of performance of motor skills

  2. The motor skills deficit significantly or persistently interferes with activities of daily living appropriate to the child’s age and impacts academic/school productivity, prevocational and vocational activities, leisure, and play

  3. The onset of symptoms is in the early developmental period

  4. The motor skills deficits cannot be better explained by intellectual disability or visual impairment. The deficit is not attributable to a neurologic condition affecting movement.

Looking at the student’s scores above, the Processing Speed Index is significantly below the other indexes so we know that her visual-motor integration skills are weak. Given that she does well on multiple choice tests and tasks that have minimal motor (writing) components, it is most likely that her area of deficit is her motor skills, rather than her visual skills, which would make her a candidate for DCD. This diagnoses should enable her to get extra time on tests and more importantly the technological accommodation of using a computer for all written work, including on standardized tests.

To make this accommodation really work it is important that the student is a quick and efficient typist. Additionally, using a program like Inspiration can help her organize and plan what she is going to write, making the writing time more efficient and productive. Dictation is another great way to speed up writing tasks.

If this is a young child I would recommend building motor skills rather than learning to type. Programs such as Re-train the Brain and Handwriting without Tears help build motor skills.

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