Slow Learning
ADD/ADHD, Difficult Topics, Study Tips

Slow is Fast Enough When Learning

Quick, speedy, fast, and faster! That is how I like to get things done. That was the root of my difficulty with homework: I would dive right into reading, get overwhelmed because I was not reading quickly enough and I knew I had a lot of other work to do, but I did not know what it was. If all that other homework was going to take this long, there was no way I was going to be able to finish my work.

Then I would try to “speed read”. That never worked for me. Instead, I would “finish” a page and even if I had understood the main ideas, I certainly could not retain that information.

I needed to slow down. To take the time to plan and organize, as I explained in Plan First, Work Later.

I needed to understand that slow is fast enough. In class, I sometimes felt compelled to work faster than the other students and know the answer first. But when I was aware of that desire, I became anxious, skipped instructions, and made careless mistakes. I needed to slow down.

In middle school I worked on a poster with a friend, Caroline. We typed and printed a few headers and sentences to glue on the poster. Normally, I would have slapped on some glue and hoped that the piece of paper landed on the poster evenly. Caroline, though, first cut out colorful boarders for each write-up. Then she used a ruler to position each one perfectly. My anxiety from the amount of time this was taking was clear to both of us, and her mother, who calmly told me it would not take much longer and it would be worth it.

She was right. Caroline was slow, but our project was one hundred times better because of it. (For the record, in no other situation would I consider Caroline “slow”. She studied for history class on the bus ride to school and got better grades than I did. She’s also a Fulbright scholar).

According to neuropsychologist Dr. Sam Goldstein, (confirmed by numerous parents and teachers I have spoken with) slow is not fast enough in our current culture (2015). We expect our learners to learn a certain way at a certain pace and panic if they get behind. But people do not all learn the same way at the same pace.

“Adopt a learning to ride a bike mindset” Dr. Goldstein recommends. The experience gained simply from taking time and working on something new is valuable in and of itself.

You learn:

  • To learn from your mistakes,
  • To set realistic goals and celebrate the small wins,
  • To be optimistic and hopeful in the face of challenges,
  • How to deliberately practice to improve,
  • To realize that as you change something, the outcomes change too, which leads you…
  • To develop an internal locus of control.

And eventually, your child will learn to ride a bike. She has also learned all of those other great skills that will help her continue to learn and succeed.

So try to help give your child time:

  • When you notice yourself rushing, slow down and talk about it out loud so your child can hear. For instance, if you notice yourself searching frantically for keys, say, “Stop. Slow down. Think for a moment. Where might those keys be?”
  • Tell your child about a specific subject or concept that was difficult for you to grasp that you learned over time. For me, I had a really hard time understanding the Pythagorean theorem and thought I would get demoted to the lower math level for sure the next year. I kept getting C’s, which was low for me. But I kept doing my homework and re-doing old homework and quiz problems that I got wrong until I got the answer right multiple times without any help. It took a lot of time and it was boring doing the same problems over and over again, but I know the Pythagorean theorem and I did not move down to a lower math class the following year.
  • Be patient and empathetic while your child is working on something difficult. 
  • Praise him when he does take the time to work on a difficult project. “Wow. You sat for two hours and just worked on this project. And what a great poster you made! I am so impressed.” (Be as specific as you can be with your praise).

Finally, as Dr. Goldstein says, “Don’t panic when learning is slow”. Remind yourself of all the good lessons your child is learning!


Goldstein, S. (2015). Managing behaviors. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

ADD and ADHD Advice
ADD/ADHD, Difficult Topics

I’m not Learning Disorder, I’m Complex

As the daughter of a dad with dyslexia, the sister of a dyslexic, and a former student (now adult) with ADHD who struggled with executive functions (being organized and planning effectively), I always hated the term “learning disability” that has now morphed into “learning differences”. While “learning differences” is certainly more accurate, it is simply too similar to and too closely linked to “learning disabilities” to be an effective new term. The acronym is still “LD” and so the old connotation of a disability is still associated with it. And while dyslexia certainly did not make school easy, my sister and father will attest to the many beneficial qualities dyslexia gave them. And I will tell you any day that I am proud of my ADHD and believe that it has shaped me in several positive ways (I could do without bumping into things – a symptom of my carelessness associated with ADHD).

But until yesterday,  I had not heard of a good alternative.

Mary Strachan, a learning advocate and coach, has developed a free series called “Kids who Colour Outside the Lines” where she speaks with experts on a variety of school-related issues kids face, the reasons for kids’ sometimes confounding behavior, and strategies to deal with those issues and behaviors. In yesterday’s episode (day 2), Mary spoke with Elaine Taylor-Klaus, co-founder of ImpactADHD, who used a term I had not heard of before: complex.

Her kids are complex and she works with parents of complex kids.

I love this term. I was a complex learner. My sister was a complex learner. So was my dad. Learning was not straightforward for any of us (unlike for my mom and my younger brother – geesh). But while “complex” takes into account the difficulties we struggled with, the word also incorporates the positive side. Being complex is a good thing. You’re not boring, straight-forward, plain vanilla. You have more depth. Yes, you face challenges, but you are resourceful and overcome those challenges.

Complex accurately describes who I am, where LD does not.

Thank you, Elaine, for finding this word for me. I hope you all will join me in using it from now on!


A focus on adults: Living with chronic ADHD. (2013). NPR: Mental Health.