By Nicholas Bamonte
Attempts to Understand Our Brains
The brain is often likened to a computer, and for good reason. Both utilize electrical signals in a binary “on-off” code to store massive amounts of information and perform complex computations. One of the foundations of modern AI research even involves essentially creating digital replicas of the “neural networks” that are a natural and fundamental part of our own brain structure. As intuitive as this comparison is, however, the brain is not simply a computer, and a computer is not simply a brain.
There are certain key differences that, if ignored, can create some very unfortunate implications. In terms of modern computers, there is generally very little if any difference between the computational capability of one over the other. Therefore, the main criteria used to judge the value of a computer is the speed with which it performs the basic computations that form the base of all computer programs, or in other words, a computer is valued based on how fast it processes information.
Who I Am
My name is Nicholas Bamonte, and I have a processing speed deficit, or slow processing speed (SPS). For some, this may be the first time you’ve heard of such a thing, for others, well, you’re probably familiar with having to explain what this is. It is what it sounds like, a person with this condition takes more time to process information, organize their thoughts, respond to something they see or hear, memorize information, etc. than what is considered normal for most people. This generally has nothing to do with the quality of the information processing, or in other words intelligence, but it’s common for people to associate high intelligence or capability with speed or vice versa.
Doing something accurately or uniquely is almost considered a given, what’s really impressive is how fast you can do something accurately or uniquely. And that’s one of the main problems with this disorder. Historically, being slow was a euphemism for being stupid or incapable. You’re constantly being told or implied that you’re lesser than everyone else, whether by others or yourself, when that could be furthest from the truth. In actuality, speed is, at best, a single aspect of intelligence.
One of the theorized reasons for how and why SPS occurs is that the brain has difficulty automatizing certain processes, meaning that brains with SPS use less automatic shortcuts when acquiring, retrieving, interpreting, processing, and/or making decisions about information. However, while it can be more taxing on the mind, performing more mental tasks manually can reduce careless mistakes, as the entire process is already being consciously reviewed. Still, even in a nurturing environment, surrounded by people who understand that you can be slow and smart, it doesn’t stop things from being a struggle. After all, that’s my story.
My Story, My Struggle
I’m blessed to have such conscientious parents who recognized my struggles and had me tested at an early age, who internalized the psychologist’s message about neurodiversity, and who had the opportunity to send me to specialized schools and programs throughout my primary education. Many people did and do not have the same good fortune, but that doesn’t invalidate my pain, because throughout my time in school, I felt like I was fighting to keep my head above water.
Back in my elementary years, we still used chalkboards, and for those of you who never got the chance to experience this, there’s a sort of imaginary line that forms between older notes and newer notes, where because of the limited space, the teacher has to erase the oldest section of the notes to make room for the next part of the lecture. I became intimately familiar with that line because I always hovered precariously close to it when note taking. The amount of times I had to call out in class that I hadn’t finished what was being erased, even if I was given just a penny for each time, I’d probably be a rich man.
My mom would often tell me that I shouldn’t be disruptive in class, that I can’t hold everyone else back, and if I have any questions or missed something, I can just talk to the teacher after class. She wasn’t wrong, per say, and she meant the best, but it didn’t work, and I don’t think it would have ever worked for me. A slow processing speed may affect all brain functions (it usually only effects some processes, seemingly inconsistently leaving others unaffected, which only makes it harder to accept your disability when it conflicts with moments where you may be faster than everyone else). Encoding information into working and long-term memory are two very basic and important brain processes, one that can be time consuming even if the brain is processing the information at a more “normal” speed. I didn’t have the resources needed to not only remember my questions, where I missed notes, continue the process of note taking and actually listen to what the teacher is saying.
Home didn’t offer much of a reprieve. I absolutely HATED homework. I was slow, and I couldn’t escape that fact because I’m a twin. My brother and I would roughly start at the same time, and I would always finish after him. While he got to watch the new episode of the afterschool cartoons that we both loved or play video games, I was still stuck doing homework. By the time I was in high school, I was regularly spending from 3:00 pm to midnight and beyond doing homework every school night. It was hard. It was exhausting.
When All’s Said and Done
Despite what you might be thinking right about now, I’m not sharing this with you to scare you, either for yourself or someone you love. Despite everything, I thrived in school. I was a straight A student from elementary to high school and adored by teachers. Despite my moments of acting out and anxiety, they always recognized that I was trying. In middle school my mother worked out an agreement with my teachers where for homework assignments that required handwriting, I would dictate and she would write. By the time I was in high school, PowerPoint was the main tool for lecture notes, and I was able to get printed copies so I could actually write down any tidbits added verbally, or observations that I made without having to worry about making sure that I had the base information written down. I’m a college graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. I made it, and I turned out just fine.
If I had to do it all again… Well, I’d be less stubborn about accepting accommodations in the first place, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I firmly believe that life is a series of tradeoffs, that the difference between a curse and a gift is more a matter of perception than anything else. My processing speed is a part of who I am fundamentally, and I’ll take whatever good I get out of it alongside the bad.
To Know You’re Not Alone
More than wanting to be cured, growing up with SPS, I wanted to be recognized. Processing speed deficits simply aren’t as widely recognized in the greater public consciousness as other learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and ADHD, despite a rather high comorbidity with those two examples. In spite of that, for people who have SDS alongside a more conventional diagnosis, the problems with processing speed can often be one of the issues they struggle with the most. For me, the fact that it only ever really seemed to come up in relation to me left a little gremlin in the back of my brain, whispering poisonous words. “It’s not real.” “It’s all in your head.” “You just weren’t trying hard enough, or letting yourself get bogged down when they diagnosed you.” Even one of my oldest friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, admitted to me that he didn’t think that I actually had any issues with processing speed. The last thing that I want is for others with SDS to go through that same questioning, to feel like it really is just them. And I’m more than willing to be part of the change that keeps that from happening.
This is my story, and for a lot of you, I’m willing to bet it’s yours too.
My name is Nicholas Bamonte, and I am neurodivergent. My formal diagnosis’ are dyslexia and ADHD, though the aspect of neurodiversity that I have struggled with the most throughout my life is slow processing speed, which is not typically recognized as a diagnosable disorder in itself. Thanks to early intervention, I do not really remember much of my struggles with dyslexia, though the poor executive functioning aspect of ADHD and often feeling behind the rest of the crowd are a different manner entirely. A graduate of FIU with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, I hope to assist the millions of people who struggle with learning differences and the difficulties that come with living in a world not designed with their particular brains in mind. Even if only as an advocate who helps to spread awareness, the feeling that you’re not alone and that your condition is recognized by society goes a long way in itself.