Attention and focus, sitting still to finish an activity, be it play or academics, engaging with peers, or to and fro interaction with the person in front seems like a herculean task to most of our children today. Sensory issues, rigidity in behaviour, not open to changes, motor issues etc. in autism or any other developmental delays does nothing to ease out the problem. Why are children so inattentive and either lost in their own world or in the world of gadgets?
When a child is born and is growing day by day, the environment around him provides him with a lot of stimulations. This could be in the form of his mother’s soothing voice, the environmental sound he hears around him (auditory awareness) visual intelligence, his own tactile sense(touch), vestibular sense (movement and balance), proprioceptive (position sense or awareness of sensations from muscle and joints). A child’s presence or the environmental presence as we call it depends on the right processing of these stimulations. To do any activity leave alone academics, the child has to pay attention. Even playing with a peer requires attention.
When children don’t respond to the stimulus or are always fidgety, when they can’t sit for even five minutes at a stretch and are always on the go, we find exasperated parents and teachers going helpless. Poor attention hampers learning at all spheres. Also understand the child himself is also struggling because of lack of attention as he can easily get overwhelmed by this mixture of sensory input he gets and when he can’t make head or tail of it, that’s when you find him going totally berserk or suddenly giving you blank stares by shutting himself down.
So what can be done to get the child’s attention? The techniques listed apply to all children and especially to children with autism. So let’s start from the prerequisites to attention.
Research has shown a strong link between attention and a good gross motor development. Attention is a sign of brain maturity, and like any development or growth of a child it develops sequentially only. A good gross level muscular development means proper muscle strength and it is one of the pre- requisites towards attention, children with lower skills in muscular movements show signs of easy fatigue. So if your child is attention deficit do consult an occupational therapist.
Hyperactivity in some children leading to self-injurious behaviours and in some extreme cases may require medication, but be sure you consult a doctor before you start any medication.
So what are the basics you can check and work on for attention?
o Check on the muscle tone of your child, a weak muscular strength leads to easy fatigue and the child will get tired soon when he has to focus.
o Work on building age appropriate gross motor skills (you can see the age appropriate gross motor skills online or consult your occupational therapist)
o Let your children play, play in the park( climb the monkey bar, hang on it, push and pull objects) (like a chair with some heavy books on it, or lift one kg packets of dal, rice against gravity). Every physical activity leads to greater muscular strength and hence better body awareness, focus and concentration.
o Work on the fine motors too, i.e. the strength and dexterity of fingers so that the child can scribble, colour and write well. This is an essential academic skill.
o Fine motor activities leads to a better pencil or pincer grip helping your child to manipulate small objects, button their shirts, tie their shoe laces. Again you can find hundreds of fine motor activities online.
o A good muscular strength means increase in his attention too, thus leading more mature and confident child.
• Check on instruction following or Auditory Intelligence.
Listening, processing and then responding accurately to the environmental sounds is known as auditory intelligence.
o If a child is not able to understand or process the instructions heard then the child will loose interest.
o Auditory intelligence can be developed by starting with letting your child follow simple one step instructions like give me a hug, sit down, give me the apple (from an array of objects like apple, car and banana)
o The instructions have to be gradually increased e.g. from one step to two steps and so on. Example give me the apple & the car, Close the door, pull a chair & sit down etc.
o Your child should always be exposed to vocabulary, and language to understand language and so be able to focus on what is being said. The more the words in his dictionary, more he will be able to correlate what is being said to him.
o Play music for your child let him be exposed to wide range of rhymes, songs as well as their actions.
o Let him imitate action songs and poems.
o Clap a rhythm, or use a drum, let your child imitate the same rhythm.
The more your child is exposed to sounds the more he would be comfortable in understanding and responding accurately to it.
• Next comes, the Visual Intelligence.
The ability to visualise, process, discriminate and respond accurately to the world, is visual intelligence. There are various activities which can build the visual intelligence of our kids.
o Give them initially activities like matching, sorting of coloured blocks, or shapes etc.
o Finding same or the odd one outs , amongst an array of objects, colours, shapes etc develops good visual discrimination skills.
o Beading initially large ones then smaller ones to string on a wire or shoe lace.
o Activities which include imitation skills both at gross motor level e.g. clapping hands, stomping feet or waving bye and fine motor level like touching thumb to each finger.
o Copying of action rhymes like “wheels on the bus”, or “head shoulders knees and toes” etc. are fun ways to engage your child as well as develop his visual intelligence.
o Copying of building blocks designs, following and replicating patterns and designs all stimulate visual intelligence. There are hundreds if visual perception games available nowadays online as well as in websites like amazon, which develop these skills.
o Mazes, puzzles are also fun ways to develop the visual intelligence of a child.
Remember a child will be only interested to work if he can make sense of what he is seeing.
Children by nature also have a lot of energy and curiosity so that keeps them on their toes always. So before sitting down on table top tasks, the first thing to do is to create an environment for the child,
o Make sure that when you sit down to study or play with your child the room is empty of any distraction. So a room with lots of bright stickers and toys well in view will never help your child to focus, however cute it may look.
o You can later add them slowly as the attention of the child develops, this will help him to cope later in a school environment.
o A table lamp, I have noticed helps, our children to focus. Use it again initially to make the child focus completely to the task on the table.
o For smaller children focusing on objects with torchlight also helps. You can make it fun by asking the child to touch where the light is being focused or give him torchlight too and make him focus on objects which you are already focussing on.
o All gadgets, tabs, television, phones, computers etc., decrease the attention span of kids, regulate it. Switch them off and if possible remove them from the room the kids are studying.
o Games which require thinking like tic-tac -toe crosswords, puzzles, memory games all increase the attention span of kids.
o A soft music in the background, lights which are not too bright also helps in focussing.
o Attention develops slowly, target smaller duration i.e. 5 to 7 minutes in the beginning, and then slowly increases the duration. Give your child adequate breaks after each activity.
o As the child gets older, time his activities with a stop watch or a time timer so that the child is not sitting with his work for hours and he also is aware of the time by which he can be free, thus reducing his anxiety.
Attention and concentration is an amalgamation of many factors it never develops in isolation so when developing this understand what could be the reason your child is not able to focus. Come down to his level and then start working from there. You will find a more happy and cooperative child. So let’s get going….
Author- Simmi Vasu
The creative representation for my post is done by talented 12 year old Vinayak Raj through his art “Lord Buddha sitting in a meditation pose”. When we think of attention, focus and concentration what better way is to depict it than this.