School Psychology

Processing Speed’s Link to Anxiety

November 3, 2017

A few posts ago we discussed process speeding and exactly what it is and how to help students who struggle in this area. So please feel free to refer to that post to speedily reprocess what processing speed is.

A weakness in processing speed can occur in isolation, but often it is linked with something else. Sometimes children with ADHD and learning disabilities can struggle with processing speed. These kids can also have weak executive functioning skills causing difficulty with planning, goal setting, and organization.

Today we will focus on how processing speed and anxiety can be linked together. Sometimes slow processing speed causes anxiety. The earlier we notice this is occurring the earlier we can intervene which could help decrease the chance of an anxiety disorder developing. For a child who struggles with reading we know it’s likely they will feel some anxiety during reading class, but since we process information all the time children with weak processing speed can face an anxiety-provoking situation at any time.

But what came first – the slow speed or the anxiety? It’s a little bit of a cycle- I’m anxious so I freeze which makes me take longer or I’m taking a long time so I start to feel anxious about being slow. Similar to what came first the chicken or the egg? Also, we learn from our previous life experiences. So if I’ve realized I normally take a long time I could begin to feel anxious because I’m worried it’s about to happen again.

So what can you do to help kids who are anxious about the speed they are processing information or completing work?

  • Advocate for the student by helping them understand they are capable but just take longer.
  • Sometimes students don’t share their emotional feelings so be careful with your words- like don’t tell them to “hurry up.”
  • Ask them how they feel if you’re not sure.
  • Make sure to share with your class that all students work at a different pace and that’s normal.
  • Be thoughtful about what you give them to do and how much time it will take that student. You can build in extra time or shorten tasks to help alleviate and prevent anxiety.
  • Help them advocate for themselves by giving them examples of what they can say to another adult or student about how much time they will need. For example, explain to them they can ask for more time or to finish work at home.
  • If the student was anxious about something discuss the situation with them afterwards. You can acknowledge that it was upsetting but then talk about ways to prevent it from happening again.
  • Again seek professional help if their anxiety is causing significant distress and impairment
  • Helping them feel understood and cared about creates a trusting relationship that can lead to decreases in anxiety

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