Consequences of Poor Processing Speed

Processing Speed, described by Alice Kassotaki, Speech Language Pathologist MSc, BSc, "refers to the rate at which information travels across the brain. It involves the function of processing information automatically, quickly and unconsciously. It relates to the ability to complete simple, repeated cognitive tasks. Poor processing speed can be seen during the task, not during the initial learning stage. Since processing speed is done unconsciously, slow processing speed is connected with a reduced ability to perform an assignment automatically. Cognitive processing speed, affecting attention, executive tasks, memory, academic performance, and behavioral and social skills, increases through childhood and adolescents. Processing speed can be caused by motor skills, insufficient sleep, working memory, ADHD and more. 

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For those who suffer with slow processing speed, may struggle with performance problems in school and adulthood. Although these people know how to complete the task, it may take a few more steps compared to others. It is important to respond to these signs and support your child so that problems don't impact the rest of their lives. 

Processing speed tasks:

  • comparing or scanning visual information such as letters, words, numbers, symbols, patterns or pictures, for similarities or differences;
  • performing basic arithmetic;
  • reading and comprehending words and texts;
  • writing words or dictation;
  • copying from the board or from a text;
  • doing things in the correct order;
  • starting and finishing work in class;
  • starting and finishing an activity;
  • learning routines;
  • relating to others;
  • completing tests;

Neurofeedback is able to help children, teenagers, and adults who have slow processing speed. If your processing speed has not improved enough to meet your goals, your brain may need some training. Neurofeedback can train your brain to regulate, stabilize and focus itself so you're able to concentrate better on your tasks or follow directions that are given to you.

Contact us for more information on how Neurofeedback can help you and your family find the focus you need to function at your best.

-Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

Reference: Kassotaki, Alice. “Consequences of Poor Processing Speed.” Upbility, Ikid Private Company. 

What Exactly IS Neurofeedback?

It is not uncommon for individuals to have many questions regarding neurofeedback. How does it work? How long will it take? Will it “fix” my problems? Before we get into whether it works for you, let’s start with the basics of what the process looks like.

Neurofeedback specialists use an EEG to observe brain waves. It does not inject anything into the brain, it does not use electricity to stimulate the brain, and it does not read one’s thoughts. It is merely a way to see brain activity. Think about what happens when a pregnant woman goes to the doctor for an ultrasound. The doctor starts by putting gel on the woman’s belly. An image is then projected for the doctor (and patient) to see the baby. It does not hurt the baby, it does not put anything in the woman’s stomach, it just produces a picture. An EEG is a similar process. A specialist in neurofeedback will begin by placing a gel on three specifics points on an individual’s head based on symptoms. Then a type of “paste” will be applied to the electrode to act as a conductor to get a good reading of the brain. Unlike getting an ultrasound, EEG’s do not produce images of the brain, but instead produce a picture of the person’s current brain waves.

Neurofeedback looks to observe what the brain is currently doing and to strengthen areas of the brain that are not being fully utilized based on a reward system. The individual will either play a game or watch a movie and will hold onto a teddy bear. The screen the individual is watching will alter in various ways, such as shrinking in size or greying out the colors of the image; the volume may get louder or softer; and the teddy bear may vibrate at certain points. By experiencing these alterations in the individual’s movie or game-playing experience, the brain learns what it needs to do to keep the screen looking “normal.” The brain is thus “rewarded” via the cues it gets from the screen, the volume, and the teddy bear when it is at an optimal functioning level. The individual does not need to do anything but watch the screen. A person cannot strain their brain or use their willpower to make the screen look a certain way; it is a process the brain does on its own.

This is the basis of neurofeedback.

Now that there’s a better understanding of what the process looks like, the question may still be lingering: “How can it help me?” Multiple studies have indicated that neurofeedback can improve many symptoms that individuals may face on a daily basis including the following:

  • Sleep (falling asleep, staying asleep, difficulty waking up, nightmares)  

  • Headaches/migraines

  • ADHD (poor concentration, difficulty completing tasks, hyperactivity, verbal expression)

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Seizures

  • Mood Swings

  • Impulsivity

  • Pain (low pain threshold, chronic aching pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia).

Neurofeedback is symptom-based. That means that when you present with a specific symptom, say migraines for example, different “sites” or electrode placements target that symptom. If you suffer from a diagnosis with multiple symptoms, such as depression, each symptom (sleep, mood, body tension) is looked at separately and treated as such. As a result, in one neurofeedback session, you may be targeting three different symptoms via three electrode placements.

For more information on neurofeedback, check out previous blog posts Myths about Neurofeedback (Part 1) and Myths about Neurofeedback (Part 2). Be sure to tune back soon for our upcoming entry, "How Do I Know Neurofeedback is Working?"

Myths about Neurofeedback (Part 2)

In Myths about Neurofeedback (Part 1), we addressed five misconceptions about neurofeedback and what it does (or doesn't do). Here are five more common myths about neurofeedback.

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Myth: Anyone can administer neurofeedback.

Fact: In order to achieve optimal results with neurofeedback, it's crucial that you work with a neurofeedback specialist who is properly educated and trained in administering neurofeedback. All of our neurofeedback specialists have advanced degrees in psychology and have spent thousands of hours working with clients in therapeutic settings. Neurofeedback specialists use their clinical judgment to develop comprehensive treatments plans, and their clinical judgment also enables them to make adjustments in frequency to maximize your comfort while training.

Myth: Neurofeedback can make symptoms worse.

Fact: Everyone trains at different frequencies, so what works for one person may not work for another person. Neurofeedback specialists will start training at the lowest frequency and increase the frequency as needed based on symptom tracking information provided by clients. If the frequency is too low, clients may experience a dull headache or feel groggy soon after a session. These symptoms disappear within 24 hours, and existing symptoms will not permanently worsen as a result of training at too low of a frequency. As long as there is open communication between clients and neurofeedback specialists, the right frequency can quickly be determined to maximize comfort while training.

Myth: Neurofeedback works the same way medications do.

Fact: Medications use various mechanisms to force your brain to work differently, whereas neurofeedback gradually trains your brain to work differently by utilizing operant conditioning. When your brain functions within an optimal range, it is rewarded with more engaging visual, auditory, and tactile feedback. For example, with our popular jet ski game, the jet ski will go faster, the jet ski rider will perform more tricks, and the music's volume will increase. When your brain does not function within an optimal range, it is not rewarded. The jet ski will continue to move slowly, the rider will not perform tricks, and the volume will remain low. Instead of forcing the brain to work differently, neurofeedback will encourage the brain to try other approaches in order to optimize performance, which in turn reduces physiological and emotional symptoms over time.

Myth: Since neurofeedback is treated as "experimental" or "investigational" by insurance companies, there must not be any research to support it.

Fact: As mentioned in Myths about Neurofeedback (Part 1), not all insurance companies are up-to-date on the latest neurofeedback research. As a result, some insurance companies will deny reimbursement for neurofeedback sessions depending on the diagnosis provided. Whenever possible, we submit appeals to insurance companies and educate them on the overwhelming amount of evidence indicating the effectiveness of neurofeedback! Our resources page contains links to many informative handouts, books, and research articles on neurofeedback and its use in treating dozens of physiological and emotional symptoms.

Myth: Once neurofeedback sessions end, the improvements in symptoms don't last.

Fact: The brain is incredibly powerful and capable of learning new ways of functioning. Once the brain has had ample time to practice a new way of functioning, it will remember what it needs to do once neurofeedback sessions end. To use a well-known proverb, "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." When medication is used to reduce symptoms, the underlying cause of the symptoms is just concealed, not resolved. This means that when medication is discontinued, the symptoms manifest once again. With neurofeedback, the brain is taught how to self-regulate, which can be sustained indefinitely. In some cases, people will experience traumatic events later on in life that dysregulate the brain. A small number of follow-up neurofeedback sessions can quickly direct the brain to self-regulate itself once again.