FASD: Lessons in Processing Speed from the Turtle, Sloth and Snail

I recently saw the graphic below, of a sloth riding on a turtle’s back, saying “too fast”. I was going to share it on my Facebook page, with a short comment about how we may need to slow down in order to accommodate an individual with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Either in what we say, how fast we want someone to reply to us, or to get something done that we ask to be done.

The speed at which we operate is usually too fast for people with FASD. The expectations that we hold for others to meet our requests or demands on our timelines are usually not compatible when it comes to FASD.

Many people with FASD will have a slower processing speed.

Processing speed is a cognitive ability that could be defined as the time it takes a person to do a mental task. It is related to the speed in which a person can understand and react to the information they receive, whether it be visual (letters and numbers), auditory (language), or movement.

For some with FASD, it’s like being a 10 second person in a one second world.


This picture really made me pause. Because we think turtles are slow. But to a sloth, a turtle is too fast. We are likely too fast for many of the children and people we support. We may slow things to a turtle pace, thinking we are slowing enough … but maybe we need to be like a sloth. Some people may even require us to be like a snail.

I have just wrapped up taking a 30 day Self Regulation Challenge (you can read about the beginning of my journey here: Self Regulation in FASD and me) from The Mehrit Centre. Although for many children with FASD their ability to understand and implement self regulation skills may be limited due to various deficits or impacts in different areas of the brain. When a child can’t regulate we need to co-regulate and/or model self-regulation.

And while self-regulation is not about our child’s processing speed, I bring it up here because our reaction to our child’s processing speed – our ability to self-regulate our response so we don’t trigger a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response – will prevent our own reaction and escalation of the situation. 

Before I got to posting the graphic I came across this post shared from Parenting With Wild Abandon on Facebook and it really spoke to the sloth and turtle picture. It also speaks to regulation or lack thereof.  It is so good I wanted to share here. Can you relate?


Parenting with Wild Abandon


I was walking up the stairs behind my son one day and he was going SO SLOWLY!

I wanted to tell him to hurry up!

Or maybe I would try to push past him and go on ahead.

I have no idea what I was in such a hurry to get to, but I felt something a little bit like rage building up inside me. Not my best day, I guess!

On a whim, I started counting the seconds in my head. It’s an old coping mechanism for any time I have to wait.

I got to 7 before we got to the top of the stairs. Well, awesome! That didn’t take that long after all.

A few days later, I was helping him out of the car. He wanted to pause to put his shoes on, even though we were going straight into the house. Couldn’t he just grab them and go on in? There was that feeling again. I started counting.

I got to 8.


There are other times in our lives where the waiting is much longer. Baths sometimes seem to take forever! I have to use that time to do something else.

But what I’m talking about here are those little moments where I want to say, “Hurry up.” The little moments where I want him to just move a little faster, because… well, I’m not sure why, honestly. Because I’m a Big Bad Busy Adult with so many Very Important Things to get to?

That’s some bullshit right there.

Over the next few weeks I kept counting. It’s a habit now, and it reminds me every time how silly I am.

Because I have never gotten to 15.

15 seconds. At most! That’s what I’m trying to save when I want to rush him, push him, pressure him.

15 seconds is nothing. NOTHING. It is absolutely nothing to me. I don’t need it. It doesn’t help me.

But 15 seconds is everything to my kid.


It’s the freedom to do things himself.

The room to go his own pace.

The belief that I’m right there with him instead of rushing on ahead.

Give it a try next time you have the urge to rush your child along. Take a big breath and start counting the seconds.

Really look at what you’re trading for getting there a few seconds sooner.

Give those seconds back to your child.

And then, it turns out I get those seconds back, too. I’m not just standing on the stairs pissed that someone is in my way. I’m not tapping my foot and rolling my eyes, my body tense with impatience.

Eventually, I don’t even have to count. I get those seconds back to just BE in the moment and BE with my child.

Those 15 seconds change my life, too.

by Parenting with Wild Abandon

How often have you rushed your child for less than 15 seconds? I know I have.

Now for our children those 15 seconds are not only important to just be – but they may be necessary for their processing speed.

So before you react, practice the pause.

Make sure you are regulated.

Observe and decide: what pace do you need to adopt?

Are you being a hare or a turtle, while your child is at a sloth or snail pace?


Processing Speed is featured as Day 19 of 99 Days to FASDay: Processing Speed

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