• Liz Murray

My teacher talks too fast! Unravelling dyslexia part 3: Verbal Processing Speed #dyslexia

Updated: May 8, 2020

My teacher talks too fast! Sometimes it feels like kids do everything at speed, they run everywhere, talk ten to the dozen, have a million ideas and it can feel exhausting to be the responsible adult trying to keep up with them!

School life also moves fast but some children find it hard to keep up.

Every now and then I remind myself of what it’s like from their perspective by shadowing a child for a day. In secondary school it’s particularly disconcerting to experience the fast- paced life of a student. Not only do they have to listen, process and learn a different topic each hour, but they also cope with different teaching styles, teacher expectations and they physically move from location to location to do so. As an adult, I always find it takes me about ten minutes to adjust to a new room, the speaker’s voice, delivery style and to grasp the point of whatever learning the teacher is focusing on in that class. So, if you are a child with any kind of processing difficulty, you’re going to find it incredibly difficult to receive, understand and remember the important information being delivered. Read more about how memory works in my previous blog. In primary school, it can be a little easier as pupils tend to work with the same teacher for much of the day but even so, this can bring challenges especially if that teacher hasn’t realised that a child isn’t managing to process the information being delivered in the allocated time.

So, what is ‘processing speed’?

Processing speed involves one or more of the following functions:

1. The amount of time it takes to perceive information. Usually this is through seeing and listening (visual/auditory).

2. To process the information and formulate or give a response.

How do we define ‘slow processing’?

In school it might be the time that a child requires to complete a task, or the amount of learning that can be completed within a certain period of time. Put very simply, it’s how long it takes to get stuff done. It has nothing to do with how intelligent a child is, rather just how long it takes them to take in, manipulate, and do something with information.

Who does ‘slow processing’ impact?

We know that slow verbal processing speed is one of the markers of dyslexia according to the Rose definition, but it’s worth mentioning that often children with slow verbal processing also suffer with other processing difficulties and sometimes they have other primary diagnoses such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In my experience as a SENCO, when this is the case, it’s the slow processing speed that can be one of the most significant barriers in a child’s profile and I have often been asked how to ‘fix it’.

Is there a quick fix?

Unfortunately, there isn’t. It’s complex because studies tell us that there is no single area of the brain that is responsible for the primary issue with processing speed. When we process information, we use different parts of the brain, any or all of which, may result in slower speed of processing. However, there are strategies that a parent or a teacher can use to support a child with slow verbal processing.

What might you notice if your child has slow processing?

  • They might take longer to complete tasks (classwork and homework) than their peers – this could also apply to finishing tests or exams in the allocated time

  • They might have trouble with holding and manipulating simple information (for example completing a multi-step maths problem)

  • They might struggle with listening and taking notes

  • They might not be able to keep up with conversations

What can the teacher do?

  • Present verbal information in chunks, one instruction or piece of information at a time.

  • Present verbal information with visual support where possible. For example, bullet points on the board and/or visual support, such as images which help to explain the verbal information.

  • Clarify what the child has understood by getting them to repeat the information/instruction.

What can you do as a parent?

  • Ensure your child is fully prepared for school – books ready, pencils sharpened, and enough food and water to get him through the day. The idea is to minimise any distractions that will stop him from focusing on lessons from start to finish.

  • Practice handwriting – the clearer his handwriting is, the clearer his notes will be. If he really struggles with handwriting but can type quickly, don’t be afraid to approach school about typing his learning instead.

  • Ask for an overview of the topics to be studied that term and then get into the habit of doing a nightly review of important information – if you can take a quick look at his books it can be quick to identify and address any gaps early on.

  • Suggest that he sits at the front of the class. He’s more likely to pay attention and participate (helping his sensory memory) if he is a few feet from the teacher.


A quick note on testing, most secondary schools will have an examination access arrangements policy. If you and your school are concerned that your child has slow processing, verbal or otherwise, you might be able to request a test that will demonstrate this. Your child might be eligible for extra time in examinations. More detailed assessments can be completed by an educational psychologist but be sure that your school will accept an external report before you pay for one of these.

Useful links/resources

Dyslexia Definition: Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia. Jim Rose (2008)

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