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Global processing disorder

Updated: May 3, 2023


Slow or delayed processing - the response to sensory or other stimuli – is common in people who have autism. When asked a question, it may appear that the person hasn’t heard what has been said. In reality, they are processing the question and preparing a response, which can take a long time. This can be due to a ‘fragmented’ outlook on the world, where a situation or environment is seen and processed in small bits noticed by the individual person. For example, instead of seeing a room as a whole, a person with autism is more likely to pick out details such as a chair leg or light switch. When you think about seeing an environment in this way, it is perhaps not surprising that it takes time to process what is going on.


Some ‘consequences’ of delayed processing include not being able to start an action or respond to a request immediately, as time is needed to ‘interpret and comprehend’ the situation. The longer processing time can result in a person’s understanding being out of context, as by the time they have processed what is going on, the situation has changed. This makes any experience seem ‘new’ and unfamiliar, no matter how similar a previous experience may have been, and helps to explain why routine is so important for many people who have autism. Resources such as symbol or picture timetables in school are key as they give a visual representation to parts of the day and the symbols may prove more memorable than the activities themselves.


While researching for this blog entry, I came across an interesting post on the Aspiedent website, which discusses a difference between slow and delayed processing. The article describes ‘slow’ processing much the same as I have above, but ‘delayed’ processing as something a little more significant.


“Delayed processing of incoming information is different. Often, this is when you are recording events as they happen (for example a meeting). But instead of this information being processed at the time, or even slowly, the information from the meeting is just stored somewhere (this includes the sound, video, and emotion of said meeting). Then suddenly, when the brain is ready, or it has some spare capacity, BAM, it will process the information there and then. This could be hours, weeks, months, or even years after the event!” (aspiedent.com)


In other words, the brain doesn’t process the information at the time it is experienced, but saves it to process when the brain is ready for it. I had never heard of this before and I think its pretty fascinating! It is also interesting to note that a person can have both slow and delayed processing, or they can occur separately.


For further information:


Looking for personalized support to help your child succeed? Meet Rebekah, a SEND teacher passionate about inclusivity and providing the opportunities and resources to help children and young adults reach their full potential. Learn more about Rebekah and how she can make a difference in your child's education journey: Rebekah


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