Processing speed. In the US, we want it fast. We love the computer with a quick processor (my iMac is a fine example). I push the button and whoosh! My document or webpage appears in a blink. We struggle mightily with the one with the slow processor (ah, like the Dell laptop my older son uses). Push the button, take a nap, and check back later. Or, better yet, just push the button faster, harder, and more frequently. Surely that will get the thing moving.
Bryce has a slower processing speed. Honestly, it sometimes drives me a bit crazy. I should embrace his delay in responding to the simplest of questions, breathing through his pause, staying in the moment, respecting the work his neural networks are doing. What’s the hurry, after all? Let the kid think! But sometimes, it just drives me nuts. I’m a fast, frequent talker. His older brother is a far faster, random talker. Bryce can keep up quite the verbal flow, too, and pausing for another to get a word in edgewise or otherwise is unusual. His words just flow continuously, at least in his awake hours. That’s the conundrum.
How can a kid who can speak so eloquently and fluently process so slowly? Somewhere, in that amazing brain, input just takes time to find its way through the circuitry. That’s fairly common for those on the autism spectrum as well as those with ADHD. Slow processing can make a person look mentally, well, slow, but many a brilliant kid needs more than an average amount of time to take in what the world offers, work it though, and push information back out.
And that’s my son. He’s a brilliant kid, quite frankly. Like many people with Asperger’s his memory for facts that interest him is encyclopedic. He is a treasure trove of facts about Ancient Greece and Rome, Magic the Gathering, the Warrior books (Erin Hunter), weaponry from medieval times, mythology, and chemistry. But he has more than a fine memory. He can weave those seemingly disparate topics together, creating a thesis, support, and conclusion, spontaneously. When faced only with his own thoughts, he can take ideas from ancient history and apply them to the fiction he reads or a situation in his own life. I hear these verbal essays all day long, and while I tend to drift when the topic is Warriors or Magic the Gathering, I’ve heard enough to be convinced of and amazed by his ability to do more than remember facts.
However, when dealing with input, the story changes. When new information goes in, the system slows. Sometimes, it seems to stop. Despite sharing air with him for the past ten years, I still forget on nearly a daily basis that he needs time to process. Since often his “I’m taking time to process” look is identical to his “I’m in my own head and don’t hear anything” look, frustration and confusion on the speaker’s part are understandable. Is he simply not hearing because his mind is elsewhere, or is he processing? Only he knows. Ideally, I’d err on the side of assuming processing, but when I’m asking for the third time what he’d like for breakfast, I tend to assume he’s lost in his head.
What does that mean for us as homeschoolers? First, it’s another plus of being at home in a classroom of two. Without other hands shooting up with answers, he has time to process without feeling like he’s always behind everyone else. When in an online seminar, he can feel pressed, but his instructor tries to fairly distribute the turns to answer questions and is patient at his sometimes long verbal pauses before he gets to his answer.
Second, it means I have to learn another level of patience. I’ve learned to pause and takes several breaths after I ask a question when we’re discussing a grammar lesson or science experiment, especially if the question requires more than a reflexive, factual answer. In math, I tend to ask a question and, if I receive no response, ask another question designed to help the child break the first question down into smaller parts. This infuriates him, and it took me years to figure out why. After the first question, he’s thinking. Slowly thinking. My next question interrupts this. As a result, he has to start the processing over. He generally yells at me, and sometimes I return the volume in my response. Anxious and angry, his processing speed drops to zero. Slowing down, allowing him time to run the problem through all those channels, does the trick.
Third, it means avoiding quick-response computer learning. Typing programs (aside from the free, untimed BBC typing lessons) are lessons in frustration and fury. All those programs designed to speed your math facts along? Ditto. Nightmare, tantrum material with no learning. We learned to avoid those ages ago.
Finally, it guides our choices in outside activities. Karate works well for the most part, with a focus on gradually learning series of movements. It’s quick-trigger only during sparring, and guess what my little guy would really rather skip? Ball sports are out, given their requirement to visually scan an environment, listen for cues from teammates and coaches, and respond quickly while moving through space. These just aren’t happening. As we’ve added swimming lessons this summer, he’s verbalizing his awareness of his need for time to think. Given he’s a good deal older than the rest of his beginner class, I made him the offer to try private lessons, which helped his older brother over the swimming hump years back. Bryce quickly refused. ”No. With group lessons, I can watch the others and figure out what to do before I have to do it,” he responded firmly. Makes sense to me.
Know thyself, child. Know thyself.
Slow processing speed is not equivalent to a slow child, but it does take patience with academic, physical, and even recreational situations. His brother is gradually learning to avoid barraging his brother with information and expecting immediate response. His friends are generally just plain patient. He may take his time getting there, but the results are worth the wait. Slow and steady wins this race.
Image thanks to NaturePhotos-cz.com.