While school may be wrapping up, Summer is an ideal time to embark on transition assessment and services to ensure that your child’s IEP process is preparing them for learning, living, and working after their public education. The ultimate goal of transition assessment is to identify the necessary skills and services to ready a student age 13-21 for transitioning from high school to the next phase of life. To book an intake and consultation appointment, visit: www.nesca-newton.com/intake. Not sure if you need an assessment? You can schedule a one-hour parent/caregiver intake and consultation.


reading pace

Processing Speed Deficits and College – Part 2 – Finding a Fit

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist

In my last blog, Processing Speed Deficits and College – Part 1 – The Dilemma, I discussed specialized instruction for students who have processing speed deficits in high school in comparison to the accommodations process in college. Below is a list of some of the accommodations and instructional modifications that are often afforded to students with processing speed deficits in high school, and if/how that support can be replicated in college as well as how hard a student may need to work to bridge gaps in support. One of the most important things to remember when reviewing this list is that modifications to the course of study or workload in a college course are typically not available in college. Students with processing difficulties must be able to keep up with the same instruction provided to every student in the class through a combination of accommodations, self-help strategies and use of supports (tutoring, academic coaching, office hours, study groups, etc.) outside of the classroom.

In the classroom

  • Reduced pace for instruction – High school educators may be used to heavily modifying their instruction (i.e., providing instruction at a slower pace, in manageable “chunks,” sometimes even with breaks between content) when they are teaching a class that includes students with reduced processing speeds. This is a typical methodology for many private special education schools and for special education classes in public schools. However, this is not the typical instructional style at a traditional college. With that said, there is great variety in the pacing of classes from one institution to another, and even from one teacher to another within the same institution. For students who have received specialized instruction in high school, it is important to consider the pace of available instruction and to sit in on college classes when considering this transition. Depending on the student’s learning profile, it may be necessary to seek out a college or support program that is specifically designed for students with learning disabilities or has had targeted programming for students with learning disabilities—especially those with processing speed deficits—for many years.
  • Copies of teacher notes or fill-in-the-blank notes – Note-taking is an important skill for life, and even students who receive accommodations to enhance their note-taking need to build skills for retaining instruction and oral direction. However, some students exit high school without note-taking skills. Upon request, colleges often have one or more ways that they can accommodate students who are unable to effectively take their own notes in class. Students may be able to get copies of teacher notes/slides, copies of notes taken by another designated student or professional note taker, recordings of class or opportunities to use other technologies in class, such as a Livescribe Smartpen. When note-taking is a challenge, it is important to understand what accommodations are typically available at a particular college, including what support might be provided for assistive technology training and usage.
  • Follow-up questions and review of learning – Students who have difficulty processing classroom learning in real-time are often provided lengthy opportunities to ask questions about materials outside of class and/or provided with copies of the teacher’s lecture materials and study guides for separate review. When thinking about college, easy access to course information and resources from outside of the classroom is an important consideration. While many universities and professors use learning management system (LMS) technologies like Blackboard, Canvas, Google Classroom, etc., there are still some professors who have not made the shift to using these systems for the majority of their coursework or student communication. Getting a sense of technology use is important if a student expects to preview and review course materials outside of the classroom (independently or with support). Understanding how easy it is to get ahold of professors outside of class (e.g., percentage of faculty who work full-time at the school, have offices, have office hours), and how to schedule brief times for individual communication with the instructor is also useful.

Managing assignments

  • Reduced writing – In high school, students who struggle with processing speed may be expected to complete fewer assignments or have longer deadlines than typical peers. In college, students are expected to complete the same number of assignments and to have all of their work for each course completed by the end of the semester. It is possible at some colleges to request extensions on assignments as an accommodation or on a case-by-case basis. However, extensions on assignments should be something that are needed as an exception rather than a rule or students may find themselves unable to keep up toward the end of a semester. Instead of extending deadlines, students who struggle with writing demands may benefit greatly by taking a reduced course load (i.e., fewer classes per semester) or by diversifying the types of classes they enroll in during one semester—for example, taking a kinesiology class at the same time as an English Composition class. If these types of accommodations are important, students will need to carefully understand a school’s policies on underloads as well as how much control/flexibility a student is able to have when managing their course of study.
  • Grading based on quality not quantity – Just as described above, it is important to remember that every student in a college course is expected to complete the same quantity of work and same course requirements. Both quality and quantity matter in college and for those reasons it is important to pick a school that is well suited for your pace and style of learning as well as a major that will enable you to fulfill course requirements using your learning strengths.
  • Support with reading fluency – Specialized instruction during K-12 education may have focused on helping a student to increase their reading pace. Reading intervention and readers are not typical in college. However, technology can be a lifesaver in supporting a student’s independent reading fluency. Students may benefit from audio books or from text-to-speech technology so that they can take in information in multiple modes and a faster pace. Practicing with technologies and understanding the related accommodations that will be available in college are important for continued reading success. Some high school students have additionally needed tutoring support because they learn best when discussing aloud content that they have read in a supportive setting—for those students, it has been important to seek out schools or learning disability programs that can provide this type of tutoring (a less common support) or to pay privately for tutoring in addition to college-based learning supports.


  • Extra time – This is one accommodation that is fairly common in both high school and college settings. One major change is that many high schools provided unlimited extra time to students, even those with no identified learning disabilities. In college, students will typically receive 50% or 100% extended time based on their needs as demonstrated in diagnostic testing. Good executive functioning can be helpful if you are a student who uses extra time on exams, because you may need to schedule your exams in a separate testing setting each time they occur.
  • Shorter length/Reduced writing requirements – As a college student, you are required to meet the same testing requirements as every student in your class. If you are accustomed to reduced writing requirements on tests, you will need to consider some of the other available accommodations (e.g., extra time, assistive technology, etc.) to successfully manage. You may also need support building your test taking strategies so that you can use your time most efficiently on tests.
  • Separate testing space – Taking a test in a reduced distraction environment, or possibly a private room, is another accommodation that is common in both high school and college. Similar to students who receive extra time on tests, there can be a high degree of planning and organization involved in scheduling one’s exams in a separate setting according to school guidelines. Students may want to inquire about the level of support that college personnel will provide to a student when they are first learning to organize and implement their testing accommodations.

Social and daily life

  • Two additional factors that may have been important in high school include Smaller school/class size and Similar peer cohort. Matriculating from a small homogenous class or school environment, where all of your peers have similar learning styles and accommodation needs, can be a shock. When researching and visiting schools, it will be extremely important to get a sense of who the other students on campus are, how common processing speed deficits are among students with learning disabilities on campus, how diverse the school is and how tolerant students generally are, etc. Sitting in on classes and taking part in accepted student days can be critical activities for students who are looking for a college that will meet them where they are at.

When students enroll with disability support services, they are often asked how their disability impacts their learning, what accommodations they were provided in high school, and what accommodations they think they will need. For students with processing speed deficits, it is critical to be able to answer these questions before beginning a college search and to find colleges that truly match their learning needs as well as their more general wishlist!



About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.