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How to Help a Gifted Student who has Average Processing Speed and Working Memory Skills

I love my son and I want to make sure that he has everything he needs to succeed in school and in life. Last year I had to work hard to get an IEP for him due to articulation problems. Part of the testing included the WISC IV which revealed that his Processing Speed and Working Memory are significantly lower than his other numbers. I was told by the school psychologist not to worry about the lower processing speed and working memory because they are “still average”.

My son, Josh, is now 7 years old and has entered 2nd grade. We’re seeing how the low processing speed may actually be an issue for him in school. His teacher recently started a “Mad Math Minute” program where students rapidly write down the answers to simple math problems, and my son has struggled greatly with writing the facts down in the allotted time. Verbally, however, he is completely fluent (he entered kindergarten doing these math facts).

His teacher, (who had implemented the math program), offered to talk to the school about getting a 504, which would give him extra time on tests, knowing that this could affect him later in his academic career. I thought she would be taken more seriously as a highly experienced teacher vs. me, “that mom”, but she was told the same thing that I was: “He’s still average”, and therefore probably wouldn’t qualify for a 504. These roadblocks continue to frustrate and sadden me because other students and teachers do not fully understanding Josh, my son is unable to get the support he needs in the classroom and show his full academic potential.

FSIQ: 135 (99%) Perceptual Reasoning: 145 (99%) Processing Speed: 103 (58%) Verbal Comprehension: 140 (99%) Working Memory: 107 (68%)

– Worried Mom

Josh’s working memory and processing speed are holding him back from demonstrating his potential. He is able to think much faster than he can write, so he needs extra time to allow him to demonstrate his knowledge. The fact that his low scores are average does not negate the fact that he has a significant discrepancy in his learning profile.

However, the school is correct that he is not testing below average. The question becomes whether this discrepancy is impacting his academic performance enough to qualify him as student with a learning disability. Is he performing below grade level on his math work? A full evaluation will investigate his reading, writing and math skills for both content knowledge and fluency. If his fluency scores fall below grade level he should qualify for services as a student with a specific learning disability given the large difference between his potential and achievement.

Regardless of whether he qualifies for services or not, now is the time to start interventions to help round out his skills and help him develop as a gifted student. Many gifted students have high verbal and reasoning skills with lower processing speed. I have listed interventions in my blog: The Frustration Profile.

The score I am curious about is the average Working Memory Index. Given the high verbal and reasoning skills, I would expect the working memory to be higher. Areas to investigate are auditory processing and attention; either, or both, could be impacting his working memory score on the WISC IV. Working memory is a critical skill for learning.

Here are some ideas to help Josh:

Working Memory and Processing Speed Recommendations and Accommodations:

For students with Weak Working Memory Skills

  1. Organize: Help students organize the information they hear in meaningful ways, including chunking the information into shorter steps or connecting new information with previously learned information.

  2. Preview: Preview new concepts with students so they know what to expect – this will decrease stress and help with attention and engagement in the classroom.

For students with Weak Executive Function/Memory Skills/Processing Speed

  1. Strategize: Build strategies to help students analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment.

  2. Stop and Think: Encourage students to think through responses and take their time; many students with processing speed issues develop a compensatory strategy to rush through in order to finish work in time; these students would benefit from slowing down to process the information more deeply.

  3. Stop and Read: Teach students to stop and read directions carefully prior to starting a task.

  4. Break Down: Break down tasks and follow the order-checking work along the way.

  5. Build Skills: Build memory skills by building associations to preexisting knowledge.

  6. Rehearse: Rehearse new information to help encode it.

  7. Visualize: Encourage students to visualize what they are going to do before they begin a task.

  8. Engage: Teach students strategies to increase engagement such as use of reminders (which can be set on devices such as the iPhone) to help build attention, awareness, structure and independent work habits.

  9. Self-Talk: Teach students to use self-talk to organize learning and performance strategies and to focus attention on tasks.

  10. Recall: Teach students strategies to help recall information, such as PAR:

  11. P= Picture it. A= Associate it R= Review it.

For students with Weak Processing Speed/ fine motor skills

  1. Tests: Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half.

  2. In-class assignments: Provide extra time for students to complete in-class assignments.

  3. Time Management: Train students in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.

  4. Typing: Teach typing skills to enable students to type as fast as they think.

  5. Computers: Allow students to use the computer for all writing tasks.

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