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Book Review: Bright Kids Who Can't Keep Up

Think back to middle school. Can you remember a classmate who often sat daydreaming in the back of the room, seemingly unengaged with the rest of the class’s activities? Consider the frustration that student might have felt when faced with the fast-paced interactions of teachers and peers, and then again at home with exasperated family members.

If someone told you that this classmate had “slow processing speed,” what would that mean to you?

Although it may sound like an obscure, mechanical term, slow processing speed is an identifiable issue that affects many children, both in their personal and academic lives. Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, by Ellen Braaten and Brian Willoughby, provides help for those who seek to assist such children in successfully navigating the rapid pace around them.

This is an easy-to-read, informative book. The authors guide parents through the process of identifying and evaluating children with slow processing speed, and they describe in detail what steps parents and school personnel can take to help children with this disability succeed.

Braaten and Willoughby also help parents who are concerned about their child’s emotional and social well-being (or what many of us simply call “happiness”). They include specific strategies for working with teachers, coaches, and family members to help these children feel successful.

The book is written primarily for parents — and includes many specific tips. For instance, children with slow processing speed benefit from guidance with time, as they experience time differently than those with average processing speed. The authors encourage parents to use clocks with hands, instead of digital clocks, so that children can see the actual movement of time.

Children who experience slow processing speed also do better when given a routine that can be practiced repeatedly, they write. This includes following a specific route from class to class at school, since having a practiced routine can cut down on the time it takes. It eliminates the need to process and make decisions during those short periods of time.

Throughout the book Braaten and Willoughby stress their concept of the three A’s: accept, accommodate, and advocate. Whether in the initial identification process, the classroom setting, or social and emotional situations, parents are to accept their children’s characteristics, accommodate their needs, and advocate for them.

The tone of the book is collaborative. It encourages parents to advocate for their children along with other family members and adults — to form a supportive team for the child, rather than to take an adversarial approach.

As someone who has spent many years as a classroom teacher, I appreciate this team-oriented mentality.

In fact, I wish someone had handed me a copy of this book during my first year of teaching. I remember sitting in meetings with special education teachers and hearing the term processing disorder without having a clear understanding of how slow processing speed manifests itself in students’ lives. This would be a great resource for any teacher, either to better understand these children or to share knowledge with parents.

In addition, the book has several user-friendly features, including checklists, sample case studies, clear and simple explanations about working with these kids, and a list of additional resources in the back. Psychologists who evaluate and work with children with learning disabilities might also use the book when interacting with parents.

Overall, Braaten and Willoughby take away the scientific, scary-sounding name of this learning disability and replace it with real examples of how these kids experience the world. They help readers appreciate that these kids are indeed bright — and that with some adjustments to their daily routine, they can achieve daily success, too.

Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up: Help Your Child Overcome Slow Processing Speed and Succeed in a Fast-Paced World

The Guilford Press, July 2014

Paperback, 207 pages


Book Review: Bright Kids Who Can't Keep Up

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Niki Hilsabeck

APA Reference
Hilsabeck, N. (2016). Book Review: Bright Kids Who Can't Keep Up. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
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