Following Instructions to Perform a Chore

Supporting Slow Processing Speed

Slow-Motion Instructions

You may notice that your child doesn’t seem to hear or register your instructions when you ask him to complete a two- or three-step chore, like cleaning up his room, going through the papers on his desk, and putting away his folded laundry. As a result, he doesn’t complete his chores. He is also left feeling as though he didn’t understand or remember what you said.

Many school-age children fail to follow a series of instructions because they’re temporarily distracted or resistant to the chore. But chronic problems following a series of instructions can signal a difficulty with processing speed. Processing speed boils down to the efficiency with which your child takes in information — how automatic versus thought-intensive it is — and then how quickly your child can respond/demonstrate understanding. It’s not always linked to comprehension, though a child might feel that it is.

Processing speed is one of our executive functions: the skills that let us effectively perform daily tasks.

Solution: Put in pauses when you deliver information

When you tell your child a series of instructions, slow it way down. Put in two-second pauses between each command so that your child can better absorb each piece of information.

Don’t do this: Ask your child to repeat what you said after you’ve given him a list of instructions.

Do this instead: Let your child adequately process the information by breaking it into chunks that allow him to keep up — putting in pauses breaks up the information.

Remember: Processing speed can work in tandem with working memory. But when your child has support for his processing speed, it can ease the demand on his working memory.

It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.

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What to Expect

You and your child or adolescent will meet with a pediatric neuropsychologist for approximately one hour. 

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Executive Function Interventions

These interventions aim to create new habits that can sidestep or override a child’s cognitive challenges.

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