Processing slowly whether it’s in conversation or reading is a common challenge for ADHD adults. While it’s not related to your intelligence, it could be related to your ADHD. Hear about the possible connections between processing speed and ADHD as well as the workarounds you can use to still reach your goals.
- Processing speed is about accuracy and consistency, as well as the rate at which you process information.
- The rate at which you process information is not about your intelligence.
- There are strategies you can use to process information accurately and consistently, though perhaps not at the speed you’d like.
You’re reading or listening in a meeting or in a one-on-one conversation. Maybe you’re not following the thread of the conversation, or maybe you understand what you’re reading or hearing, but are having a hard time synthesizing the information. Unfortunately, you might even decide in those moments that you must not be that intelligent.
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused, Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD, adults, like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
In this episode, I’ll give you an overview of the possible connections between ADHD and slow processing speed, as well as suggest a few ways you could address this challenge. Before beginning it’s important to note that if you have slow processing speed, there could of course be other causes than just your ADHD. So, if you have concerns about your processing speed and would like to know more about your own flavor, so to speak, testing with a psychologist can help you learn more about what’s going on for you.
But my goal in this podcast, though, is to help you understand a bit more about the relationship between your ADHD and processing speed, as well as share a few strategies you could use to manage these challenges so that it doesn’t get in the way of reaching your goals.
So, let’s start by getting a lay of the land and defining processing speed. You might think it’s just how fast you think. Pace is certainly part of it, but it’s also about how accurately and consistently you can first perceive the information, whether it’s auditory or visual reading that needs to be acted upon, then make sense of the information, and third internally formulate a response and take whatever action you think is appropriate here.
Here’s where it can get even trickier for ADHD adults. Because not only do you need to absorb the new information. But you also need to retrieve related information from memory that could help you inform whatever action you want to take in that moment. But, you know, ADHD adults tend to be a little, a historical, and, specifically, when it comes to this challenge with remembering related information. So not being able to quickly make connections between past related information and the current task can certainly affect your processing speed.
But the real critical piece that I want to make sure you understand is that it’s not that you can’t process the information and formulate the response you want and then be able to act in the way you want. It’s just that it may take you more time than you’d like. If you have slow processing speed. And it’s definitely not because of your intelligence.
So, let’s look at how your ADHD may be impacting how fast, accurately and consistently you process information. One reason you may have slow processing speed, as it relates to your ADHD, is you simply have a hard time activating, getting started. Whether it’s engaging in a one-on-one conversation, a meeting or reading material, you’re just not ready to act and respond to the stimuli, whether visual or auditory. Another reason you may process slowly is because you’re having difficulty focusing or sustaining your attention to the task. This could be either because you’re distracted by something else, or maybe it’s because you can’t focus you end up being distracted by something else. There goes the fly. No surprise there, right? So you’re just not taking in the information.
Another reason you may process slower than you’d like is because of working memory challenges. You know your working memory capacity is less than your neurotypical peers. And this means you may not be able to hold all the necessary information in that moment in order to manipulate and respond.
You know, it’s also possible that when you find a task or interaction, particularly difficult, you may get easily frustrated or angry because of your ADHD challenges with self-regulation. And, of course, this makes it hard for you to process the information effectively. Not only may you end up processing slowly, but if your emotions really get the best of you, you may just freeze and find you can’t process at all.
The bottom line is just because you think fast and have more energy maybe than your neurotypical peers, because of your ADHD brain, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you process information efficiently, which affects processing speed.
Again, this doesn’t mean you can’t process effectively. It may just be that you can’t process the information efficiently in the timeframe that you’d like. But I think with a little grace and compassion and a willingness to learn new strategies, you can learn how to take in, make sense of information and respond in the way you want. Eventually.
Let’s see how you might do this in situations where you are either reading texts or listening to something, such as a recording or podcast. Remember, just because you can skim information quickly or play the podcast at double speed, if you can’t actually make sense of the information and formulate a response, you’re still processing slowly. It’s not all about the speed. Of course, if you just want to get the big picture and aren’t concerned about all the details you might decide it’s okay not to get all the details.
Go ahead, play my podcast at double speed. But, if you decide it’s important to accurately process the material you’re reading or listening to, you may choose to first schedule it at a time of day that’s optimal for you to be able to focus and attend to that kind of material. Also, rather than reading or listening to the material all at once, read it for the amount of time you can hold your attention.
You could try a Pomodoro, 25 minutes, or whatever amount of time is right for you. Also, you might be able to attend better if you are reading or listening actively by having a question in mind you are trying to answer. Having an objective in mind will make it easier to focus and attend, rather than skim. So, for example, while listening to this, you might ask yourself, how can I more accurately process material I’m reading or listening to. And then try to answer that question.
I know this sounds like a lot of work. But think of all the time you waste when you’re not reading or listening effectively. Figuring out how to do this better, I think will probably save you time in the long run. But don’t take my word for it. Try it out and see what happens.
But if it’s just you and the task such as reading or listening to recording, you can structure the activity to suit your needs. But what if, what if your slow processing challenges show up when you’re in a meeting with another person? You can still meet your needs. But you may need to do a little negotiating. Hopefully, if it’s your partner or other family member or a friend, you can easily ask for what you need without too much finagling and too much structure. But when it’s someone in your work environment like your boss, a colleague or client, you’ll likely have to put more thought into structuring the conversation to accommodate your processing speed.
The first step you might take is to agree on the agenda, if it’s more than one topic. And, if you notice the conversation going off topic, you could gently suggest something like, “Do you mind if we talk about that another time as I’m trying to wrap my head around this.” That way, hopefully, you don’t get overwhelmed by too much information. In addition to the agenda, agreeing on the objective of the meeting might be helpful too. So you can keep in mind what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. That is, are you trying to make a decision or are you just brainstorming ideas?
Another strategy you could try, if needed, is to hit the pause button in the course of the conversation by asking, “I want to make sure I get this. Do you mind if I just reflect back what I think you said.” Or something like that.
And, if you need to commit to taking some specific action or giving a response and you’re just not ready, let the person know. You could say something like, “It’s a lot to think about. I’d like to take some time to digest. Sound okay if I get back to you by…?” And then give them a date. Yes, you’ll have to remember to get back to them by that date. But this hopefully will give you the time you need to process and respond the way you want.
How about a group setting? If you have challenges with processing in a group setting, it can sometimes feel like you’re an observer in a game of ping pong. Maybe it’s so fast and furious you’re not able to synthesize all the information that’s coming at you. And, if you are taking it all in, it may still seem like someone took your paddle.
So you can’t respond meaningfully on the spot. If you find yourself in these situations, you may just check out because it’s just too overwhelming. Alternatively, the stress of not being able to say anything may lead you to blurt out something, anything, just to be able to contribute. And when you do this, you might later regret it because it’s not as well thought out as you would have liked. To address this challenge, if you have a say in the structure of the meeting, you may ask or require that there be an agenda and that there’ll be a facilitator, if possible. If you can get the agenda ahead of time and give it some thought before the meeting, this might help you process easier during the meeting. And, of course, a skilled facilitator can make sure everybody’s voice is heard.
Whether or not you have a say in the structure of the meeting, taking notes can help you externalize your thoughts so you can process and organize them before verbalizing them. You might include in your notes questions, as well as thoughts about what is being said. This might help you participate if you’d like. If you’re still nervous about participating, even if you’re taking notes, you might find it helpful to proceed your comments with the caveat such as, “I’m not sure where I’m going to land on this. But my initial thinking is…”
And, if you just can’t formulate what you want to say during the meeting, you might say, “I’d like to give that (whatever that is) some thought and follow up later.” And, yes, you do need to figure out how you’re going to remember to follow up later.
There, you have it. You may process slower than you’d like, and it may be related to your ADHD. But remember, it’s not about your intelligence. Hopefully the strategies I’ve shared will help you think about what you might be able to do in situations where you’re just not processing as quickly as you’d like.
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults, with ADHD, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, please also pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might benefit. And, until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla Cummins wishing you all the best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.