What Causes Slow Processing Speed? Here Are 4 Reasons

Do you desire to know what causes slow processing speed? We’ve got you covered in this article!

Like every other condition, the causes of slow processing speed are many.

Coupled with personal experience and recent research, I’ve presented all the known reasons why a brilliant child or brilliant adult might have a slow processing speed.

Keep in mind that having a slow processing speed doesn’t mean you are dumb or stupid it just simply means that: “You process information slowly!”

Now, let’s explore why a child or an adult might have a slow processing speed.

Here Are Answers To What Causes Slow Processing Speed

1. Gene

Many kids who display slow processing speed today inherited this trait.

They probably inherited it from their parents or grandparents.

Do you have a child with a slow processing speed? Pause and take a closer look at your spouse, yourself, and a child from your relative.

Likely, you will be able to identify one or even more persons with slow processing speed in your family.

Are these people always the last to finish their meal? Are they slow when responding to conversations or even always late to an event?

These clues will help you find out why your child or someone you know is processing information slowly.

But, what causes the slow processing speed in the first place?

The culprits are brain-based features like the composition of neurons, variations in genes, the brain’s white matter structure, and even the spacing between the neurons.

This point leads us nicely to the second reason a child might exhibit slow processing speed.

2. Illness

Undeniably, slow processing speed can happen on its own!

However, most times, they come with dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety.

From personal experience, if someone tells me to hurry up when handling a task, it adds to my anxiety.

And in the long run, it will take me a long time to complete my task.

Furthermore, conditions like high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and other vascular risk factor can be a culprit.

These conditions can affect the blood vessels that feed the brain’s white matter, leading to the starvation of glucose and oxygen in the axons.

Head trauma and neurodegenerative illness can be significant factors too. If you have these conditions, you can anticipate slow processing speed.

What does this mean? It means you should work hard on limiting the symptoms or eradicating them.

If you can’t eradicate it, manage it so that it doesn’t get worse.

3. Brain-Based Factors

There are a series of brain-based factors that contribute to processing speed deficits. 

What parts of the brain are affected?

The frontal lobe!

The frontal lobe is a part of the brain where several executive functioning skills are concentrated.

Some evidence-based results show that when the frontal lobe decreases in volume, it can lead to a problem with processing speed.

In addition, the composition of the neurons in the brain has a relationship with slow processing speed.

For instance, myelin, a fatty acid that improves and insulates the signals transmitted between neurons, can influence processing speed.  

This theory further suggests that lower amounts of myelin in the neuron’s surroundings can cause slow processing speed.

Furthermore, neurotransmitters in the brain have a relationship with processing speed too. But what are neurotransmitters?

These are chemicals in the brain that help with communication between one neuron and other ones.

For instance, acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, plays a significant role in enhancing the responsiveness of sensory information.

Also, they can be a factor in the delay in information processing.

Finally, synaptic spaces are also one of the reasons for slow processing speed.

When there is a larger space between the neurons, it will take the neurotransmitters more time to move from one place to another, which will lead to slower processing speed.

4. Age

Yeah! Here’s the fourth reason why you or someone can have a slow processing speed!

Age is one of the reasons why many adults have this condition.

Generally, processing speed slows with age.

Many older people have noticed that it now takes more time to solve a problem.

On the other hand, others have seen that they take a longer time to make decisions. 

They have to pause and think for many hours before making a decision!

Nevertheless, the actual reason age impacts information processing isn’t fully understood. 

But there is reliable evidence that such experience results from the wear of the white matter in the brain.

This wear and tear impede processing speed.

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What Causes Slow Processing Speed in Adults?

Specifically, older folks might have a genetic predisposition to age-linked white matter decay. 

Of course, this is still a poorly understood concept, but the study is still ongoing.

In some older adults, their slow processing speed could be a sign of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Many people think that slow processing speed only happens in children, but the truth is, it happens in adults too.

In some adults, when they feel anxious, freeze for a few moments. 

During these moments, they aren’t processing any information as fast as they’d have.

They take a longer time to make decisions and make something out of the information they got. 

These people can experience these when they are holding a conversation.

It can even extend to talking and listening to notes and doing some math.

Also Explore: 28 Best Games To Improve Processing Speed

Further Insight On The Causes Of Slow Processing Speed

Let’s start with what most brain scientists think about processing speed.

Many renowned brain scientists see processing speed as the time it takes an individual to take in new information, understand it, and finally formulate a response!

What is significant about the view?

Studies have suggested that the speed of processing information isn’t always the same. They change with age. 

Human thinking ability speeds up from childhood to adolescence. Then, up to middle age, it maintains relative stability.

Then, finally, in one’s late middle age, and from there onward, it declines. It does that not rapidly, but slowly.

Naturally, some kids are fast. They talk, run, and finish their assignments and handle tasks at a rate fitting for their age.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the same with other kids. Some don’t, or to be fair: they can’t!

These kids do have processing speed deficits.

A renowned pediatric neuropsychologist has discovered that he’s evaluating more kids who are having slow processing speeds.

And this isn’t an isolated case; many professionals around the world are experiencing the same.

So, this question is: Does this surge represent what is happening in most kids?

If yes, what could be responsible? Could it be the type of curriculum used in most schools?

Could it be because much emphasis is placed not on experiencing the process and just on products?

Or, could it be that we couldn’t come to terms with what seems like a behavioral problem that is now transitioning into a disability?

While answers to the questions are not easy, we can be sure slow processing speed leaves significant consequences for those with the condition.

Another vital factor to keep in mind is that, more than ever before, society now places so much value on doing things quickly.

When some kids quickly complete their classwork, test, or exams, they are celebrated, and praised, ignoring those who seem to come behind even when they perform better.

The world at large has become more fast-paced. To be successful in the classroom today, a child must process a large amount of information speedily.

Also, they must quickly navigate between different types of tasks.  

It might interest you to know that most of the world’s achievements today come from those who are deep, slow thinkers.

Whether it is art, innovation, or literature, these treasured works are from gifted individuals that have worked at their pace.

They worked without the competition of coming first in that endeavor. These folks with slow processing speed did what they could!

Therefore, teachers and guides who work with kids that have this difficulty need to help them.

They must be treasured and guided. Else, the world will miss out on the remarkable achievement these individuals can bring to us.

Apart from teachers, students can be a source of encouragement as well.

During my elementary school, my friends derive joy from completing classwork faster than other kids.

However, others wouldn’t finish early but will still perform better, even better than some students who submitted first.

This experience changed our view of who they are.

While they are brilliant, we realized how challenging it was for them to live with a system that requires more time to process information.

But it still doesn’t make them bad citizens of the class.

Hence, if speed over accuracy is discouraged, many kids with slow processing speed will be positive about themselves and comfortable with their makeup.

How Do You Identify Why You Or A Child Have Slow Processing Speed?

After exploring the four points and the supplementary information we highlighted above, it’ll now be easier to start figuring out why you are slow at processing information.

The reality is, it is quite tasking to find out the actual reason why you have slow processing speed.

That is why from my previous articles on this subject, I’ve always maintained that kids and parents need to go for a complete neuropsychological evaluation.

This information can only serve as a guide to fast-track the assessment period and correctly identify why you have the problem.

After identification, parents and schools can then work together to execute two vital procedures:

Developing Adjustments

Developing adjustments involve the implementation of some interventions.


Instead of isolating these kids, embracing their condition and helping them realize their value is critical.

If these are in place, a child can understand these problems and work with teachers and parents on solving the problem.

Does Gender Play A Role In Slow Processing Speed?

To find the answer to that question, I’ll have to take you through the LEAP (Learning and Emotional Assessment Program) at Massachusetts General Hospital.

While it discusses the gender that affects the most, there are other noteworthy facts we’ll find out.

The result shows that girls are less affected by processing speed deficits, while boys are more affected.

For example, 70% of the kids with slow processing speeds were boys. What argument is there on this?

Some experts have opined that typical elementary schools have learning styles structured heavily to favor girls, making it quite challenging for most boys.

But apart from gender, more factors are responsible for the deficit in slow processing speed.

Social difficulties, for example, are common in 1 out of 3 children with slow processing speed, and these difficulties aren’t limited to those who have ASD-related diagnoses.

Also, language impairments occur in about forty percent of children.

But, how much impact does processing speed have on academic functioning?

Most children with slow processing speed today are already obtaining services under the 504 or IEP plan!

This innovation shows that it impacts their academic performance. 

Take note, however, that slow processing speed isn’t the same with ADHD.

It is not out of place to see a gifted student experience slow processing speed. A close example is what I related earlier.

The student was slow to process information, but he was never a dullard. He’s brilliant. 

So, slow processing speed isn’t a formal learning disability.

Meanwhile, having it can be frustrating to the sufferers, parents, and teachers.

Many experts admit that poor working memory is a learning disability. However, there are two types of memory problems.

These are:

  • Working memory
  • Long term memory

These can lead to difficulties in learning.

Why can problems that result from working memory transition to difficulties in learning?

The person might have little space in their working memory for integrating and organizing new knowledge or skills.

Happily, working memory capacity can be improved. You can do this through practice via repetition.

Many have even acknowledged that reading can enhance working memory capacity. 

When reading, you can connect what you read in the past with what you are currently reading, thus building your working memory.

Amazingly, working memory also plays a significant role in attention and focus, and reading can afford you that luxury!  

Working memory problems are often common in childhood and often linked to poor academic learning. 

Now that you’ve known what causes slow processing speed, are there things to improve the condition?

Of course, yes.

Let’s explore a few recommendations to address the situation! Experts approved these recommendations.

Recommendations To Address The Causes Of Slow Processing Speed

In this section, we’ll be providing solutions to the causes of slow processing speed.

These will make us explore: the 3 A’s of Processing Speed. 

So, what are they?

They are:

  • Acceptance- Parents and teachers accept this unique style of learning in their students.
  • Accommodation- Helping to accommodate learning challenges
  • Advocating- Speaking up for their needs.

Beyond doing the three A’s, adults or children with slow processing speed must work hard to implement them.

It is crucial to accept those traits, accommodate and then advocate for them in work and school environments.

Let’s explore these in detail.

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1. Acceptance

The first step parents and guidance need is to acknowledge and admit the problem.

Most times, this step involves a comprehensive evaluation.

This evaluation allows them to see where the slow processing speed falls compared with other aspects of cognition.

Slow processing speed can negatively impact a person’s well-being at home, school, or even in social relationships.

Therefore, the quicker the problem is recognized, the faster you can address them.

Did you notice that it takes your child a long time to complete homework at home? Then, that means you’ve acknowledged and accepted that there is a problem.

What’s next? Find an effective way to accommodate the problem.

2. Accommodation

When it comes to accommodation at home, parents must be keen about structuring the child’s environment.

It involves changing the rate at which you speak, helping the individual manage time, and implementing visual and verbal cues.

3. Advocating

Advocating can be a bit tricky for most people. But regardless, it is still a vital step. 

Concerned individuals must serve as advocates. Why?

Those with a processing speed deficit are often described as unmotivated, lazy, and not smart by peers and teachers.

Thus, it is the responsibility of every parent to teach or inform teachers and relatives about the kid’s cognitive profile.

After that, they can educate the child on how to advocate for themselves too.

Since we live in a fast-paced world, many are still surprised that kids with slow processing speeds aren’t catching up on the trend.

This attitude can even make the situation more complex and complicated.

And it can lead to anxiety and depression.

Remember, the relationship between emotional difficulties and processing speed is somewhat bi-directional.

Therefore, the condition can be a vicious cycle for those having it.

They will be susceptible to anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. And if these emotional problems persist, it slows them down even in the future.

Interest and motivation can have an impact on processing speed. 

So, parents need to work harder on developing their children. 

If you are an adult with that difficulty, read further on the article reference at the beginning of this article.

Final Thoughts

Most people who have interactions with a child or adult with a slow processing speed are not neuroscientists. 

Thus, they might not immediately figure out what causes slow processing speed.

But, instead of blaming a person with a processing speed deficit, it’s wise to understand their condition accurately.

People with slow processing speed can get help to think faster and become more focused. 

Some alternatives can help them attain their potential and limit frustrations that would come from slow processing speed.

If you have a slow processing speed, take your time to understand the causes of the slow processing speed discussed in this article.

Then, visit an expert for a comprehensive medical evaluation and start working on it!

Now that you know what causes slow processing speed, spread the word!

Welcome! I’m Trust. I’m a writer, public instructor, and mobile photographer. I’m passionate about an organized and productive life and have keen concern for folks living with ADHD and those having a slow processing speed. Join me on this journey as we live an organized and productive life!

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