Tips for Helping a Child Who Has ADHD and Slow Processing Speed

Young boy doing his homework with his mom

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It isn’t at all uncommon for kids with ADHD to take somewhat longer to complete tasks especially when the assignment is cognitively challenging. This doesn’t have anything to do with ​the level of intelligence, rather it may have to do with processing speed—the speed at which the student processes and responds to the information.

Written expression can also be quite a challenge for a student with ADHD due to several possible factors. These may include slow processing speed; problems retrieving information in a timely fashion because of working memory impairments; difficulty organizing thoughts and getting them down on paper; and challenges with handwriting due to poor fine motor coordination.

As a result, a student may take a lot longer than most classmates to get work completed and may produce less work overall as compared to their classmates. It could also be that your child is struggling to keep their focus and concentration at a level where they can successfully complete work.

Classroom Modifications to Help a Child's Slow Processing Speed

Your child's difficulty may be caused by a number of learning issues, so be sure to talk with the teacher to sort out where the breakdown is occurring. Below are some general classroom modifications that may also help:

  1. Ask the teacher to shorten or reduce the number of written assignments.
  2. Allow for extended time on assignments and tests.
  3. If handwriting is slow and labored and seems to be related to cursive writing only, allow the student to print.
  4. Allow the use of a computer.
  5. If helpful, allow the student the opportunity to give oral reports or make a project illustrating work in place of a written report.
  6. Make sure instructions and directions for written assignments are brief; repeat them for the student as needed.
  7. Provide written instructions that are concise and clear.
  8. Schedule more difficult in-class written assignments earlier in the day.
  9. Break down or divide written assignments into smaller, more manageable segments
  10. Increase the level of adult supervision to monitor progress regularly on each step of the assignment.
  11. Help the student take “energy breaks” while working on assignments, allowing him to get up and move around and re-energize and then get back to work.

In addition, be sure to talk openly with your child about feeling overwhelmed at school. Include him in the strategizing and planning process about ways to make schoolwork more manageable. You may also want to share your concerns with your son's doctor.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kibby MY, Vadnais SA, Jagger-rickels AC. Which components of processing speed are affected in ADHD subtypes?. Child Neuropsychol. 2019;25(7):964-979. doi:10.1080/09297049.2018.1556625

  2. Molitor SJ, Langberg JM, Evans SW. The written expression abilities of adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderRes Dev Disabil. 2016;51-52:49–59. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2016.01.005

Additional Reading
  • Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S., Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD, & Executive Function Deficits (Second Edition). Woodbine House 2011.

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.