Slow processing speed affects many students around the world

There are many different learning styles that people exhibit based on how their individual minds work. Some are visual, preferring to read passages, while some others are auditory and better ascertain new information through sounds. Some students complete homework and tests quickly, while others take much longer than the expected time and use the full duration for tests—and then some. Often, the latter group deals with slow processing speed, something that can influence nearly every aspect of their lives.

What is slow processing speed?

In his article, “Understanding, Diagnosing, and Coping with Slow Processing Speed”, author Steven Butnik explains that slow processing speed is when someone requires extra time to accomplish tasks compared to the average person. He emphasizes that slow processing speed is not a learning disorder, something that is echoed by scholars throughout the field.

Slow processing speed is not a learning disability in and of itself, but is many times present in people with ADHD and other disabilities. Consequently, it is frequently misidentified as a disorder by teachers or even parents. However, one can have slow processing speed and not have difficulty learning information. In fact, there are many students with slow processing who are highly intelligent and considered to be gifted. These “twice-exceptional” students are often frustrated because they are able to figure out complicated and difficult subject matters but take an increased amount of time to process and formulate their thoughts.

How can I help a student with slow processing speed?

Remember first and foremost that slow processing speed is often extremely frustrating for the individual, more so than the people around him or her. Constantly telling them to hurry up is rarely helpful. There are many ways to helpincluding:

  • Use a timer for tasks that take much longer than they should. Letting them know how long they’ve spent can often help them be better with time awareness.
  • Limit distractions when possible. For example, covering up all questions on a homework assignment except the current one they are working on can aid in focus.
  • Allow for more time for tasks when possible. This takes some of the stress away and can even reduce the amount of time they require.

Try an after-school tutor and let them know about your concerns

Because time is a primary factor for students with slow processing speed, increasing the amount of time available can offer a great boost to their learning skills. One way to do this is to use a qualified tutoring service with tutors who are aware of slow processing speed and have experience managing and engaging students who have it. By giving these students a little bit of extra time with someone who can focus on them alone, many are able to gain more confidence in their abilities and become better learners overall. 


Many people have trouble with reading. For some, this is due to a learning disorder such as ADHD or Dyslexia. For others, it may be an issue with slow processing speed that causes them to take more time to comprehend written words and directions. And some never find out what the cause is at all. One of these less-diagnosed causes is Irlen Syndrome

What Is Irlen Syndrome?

Estimated to affect as much as 14% of the population, Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder. It affects how the brain processes visual information. Often, text is seen as slightly blurry or with a “halo” effect at the edges. People with Irlen Syndrome tend to have light sensitivity, reading problems, concentration problems, and difficulties with writing as a result. Frequent headaches, especially during reading, is a common sign of Irlen Syndrome and tends to be accompanied by tiredness and skipping words or lines when reading.

Poor depth perception is another symptom which can result in difficulties with ball sports, stairs, driving, and even social problems such as judging proper personal space distance. Another common consequence of Irlen Syndrome is loss of self-esteem, as people with undiagnosed Irlen Syndrome compare themselves to “successful” readers and come to believe that they are “dumb”.

Many people are unaware of Irlen Syndrome, and live their entire lives not knowing that they have it. This means that they never get to use any kind of aids or remedies to ameliorate their symptoms and become good readers.

What causes Irlen Syndrome?

While Irlen Syndrome seems to run in families and many studies have noted hereditary markers, it is not purely genetic. The cause of Irlen Syndrome seems to be a problem in the visual pathway between the eye and the brain, a problem that causes visual processing to fail to synchronize, which leads to perceptual dysfunction.

Researchers discovered another interesting correlation when delving into Irlen Syndrome. As stated above, approximately 14% of the general population may have Irlen Syndrome. That number jumps up significantly for people with a learning or reading difficulty. Nearly half of people in this category also have Irlen Syndrome, along with about 1/3 of people on the autism spectrum and 1/3 of those with a concentration or attention problem such as ADHD.

How does one discover if they have Irlen Syndrome?

If someone has several symptoms of Irlen Syndrome, there are several self-tests available. has both a short and a long self-test that give immediate answers about if a professional evaluation is recommended or not. There are official screening centres in New Zealand (On Track Learning is one) that can run more comprehensive tests and then refer to an Irlen Diagnostician if required.

How is Irlen Syndrome Treated?

Currently, Irlen Syndrome is not curable, but there are ways to mitigate the visual processing issues.

Irlen Screeners can provide specific coloured overlays for people to lay on the text that they are reading to alleviate symptoms.

Irlen Diagnosticians ascertain the exact tint necessary to put into Irlen spectral filters that are worn as glasses. These special filters help with everyday issues such as light sensitivity, glare, depth perception, night driving, or copying from a board.

The overlays that an Irlen Screener can offer to put on text are often a different colour to the Diagnostician’s recommended Irlen tinted spectral filters that the eyes see through.

The Irlen Method involves using coloured overlays or tinted filters in glasses in order to filter out specific wavelengths of light. This filtering helps correct the processing problems and can greatly improve some symptoms.

Irlen Syndrome is not an optometric problem, which is why the glasses are referred to as filters rather than lenses. However, some people do have tinted lenses that resolve both optometric and perceptual problems.

What if you suspect someone you know has Irlen Syndrome?

If you or someone you know has difficulties with reading, especially if they don’t otherwise have a learning or attention disorder, Irlen Syndrome may be the cause. Many students are able to significantly increase their abilities and scores in school through the use of the Irlen Method. There are many testimonials and success stories from students who were able to study and learn more effectively, and taking a test can confirm or rule out Irlen Syndrome as a possibility.

See us at On Track Learning if you think that an Irlen Screening may be useful for you.


When a student has a neurological disadvantage that causes him or her to have difficulties processing written information, the student has an increased chance of lagging behind classmates. Reading is essential in nearly every class and subject in school to comprehend instructions and course material, with most people agreeing that reading is the most important life skill.

This means that conditions such as Dyslexia create a significant barrier and a strenuous challenge; a challenge that must be overcome to bolster learning. But when teachers have to focus on the needs of over a dozen students at a time, how can someone with reading hardships get the help and attention he or she needs?

The Cellfield Intervention assists in creating new neural pathways

Up until recently, it was thought that neural pathways were permanent and could not be rewired—recent research has proven this to be inaccurate. Cellfield uses this information and understanding of neuroplasticity to help students make the connection between letters and their corresponding sounds. Reading requires continuous processing of fast-moving visual and auditory information, information that is processed differently when someone has Dyslexia.

The intervention is split into 10 sessions of one hour each which are typically completed over a 10-day period. Before the intervention beings, students are assessed using the British Dyslexia Screening Test that measures skills such as phonological awareness and working memory. Each student is also put through three tests: Vocabulary, Word Attack, and Comprehension. An optometrist will also assess the student for eccentricity and instability, a condition that makes it difficult for the eyes to fixate on the beginning of a word and move to the end.

In a mere 10 days, new, quicker and more effective neurological pathways are developed, allowing for students to make as much as a two-year gain in their Word Attack and Comprehension skills. From that point, most students find that they are better able to process information and are less stressed and more competent learners.

For more information on Cellfield and its effectiveness, read the information in this study.

What if my child has trouble with reading but isn’t Dyslexic?

Dyslexia is a primary focus of Cellfield but isn’t a requirement for the program. Many types of students are suitable for Cellfield, including those that have poor reading and/or writing skills, do not have basic sound/letter correspondence skills, have weak working memory or difficulty recalling what they read, as well as children with problems controlling eye movements. Students with Irlen Syndrome may also benefit from the program, particularly since Irlen Syndrome is present in approximately half of people who have reading or learning problems.

Students with extreme concentration issues or those that do not yet have basic sound/letter correspondence skills are not best suited for Cellfield. Because of the computer usage and software required, medical clearance will be required for students with epilepsy or sensitivity to bright lights.

Where is a Cellfield Centre near me?

If you are interested in Cellfield, there are numerous locations throughout New Zealand where you can go. In the Invercargill area, you can visit or email Patria at with any questions or to set up an appointment.