How to develop attention and concentration in children
Created by Sunita Belugundu Updated on Nov 27, 2019
ATTENTION DIFFICULTIES IN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER:
Paying attention is a key learning skill for any child. Attention span or concentration is the amount of time a child can focus on something before losing interest. It can vary from child to child. One of the major challenges that parents of autistic children encounter is the child’s inability to ‘pay attention’ or ‘concentrate’ on given activities.
Most children on the spectrum have problems in paying or sustaining attention on target stimuli/activities over a required length of time. Most of the time they do not know where to focus. For example, a seemingly simple activity like throwing a ball across to his father became a herculean task for 4-year-old Rohanas it required to focus in the form of hand-eye coordination. Instead of looking at the person and throwing the ball at him, Rohan would keep spinning the ball and even forget that he had to throw it to his dad.
FACTORS THAT CAN IMPEDE CONCENTRATION
Concentration in children is never an ‘all-or-nothing” phenomenon. In other words, children show varying levels or degrees of concentration depending on the situation or activity or person. If a child is finding it difficult to sustain attention, the reason need not always be faulted upon the child. Parents or caregivers need to understand the factors that influence attention- concentration of children. Some of them could be:
a.) Over- expectation on part of the caregivers-- A child may be expected to sit with high concentration for activities like writing, copying, coloring or reading for a longer duration, but may not be yet ready for such activities. The child’s developmental levels must be taken into consideration as the resultant pressure from such expectations can impact their communication, confidence, social development, and attainment of academic skills.
b.) Sensitivity to light, sounds or other distractions in the surroundings – Some children are very sensitive to bright lights, loud sounds or may get distracted by objects that hold a fascination for them like marbles, balls, fans, etc. This again can stop them from focusing on the task at hand. Too many toys can be equally distracting. Priyaansh, a bubbly 5 yr old found it difficult to perform a simple sorting activity as he would get scared of the sounds that the pressure cooker made in the kitchen.
c.) Hunger, temperature and sleep patterns – There can be instances where children may be hungry or sleepy, feeling hot or cold; but are unable to articulate their needs effectively. This discomfort unless addressed first can impact their ability to focus.
d.) Lack of interest – Sometimes an activity may prove to be boring, mundane or disinteresting to a child, and discourage him from making an effort to concentrate.
UNDERSTANDING THE CHILD FIRST...GENERAL TIPS FOR PARENTS:
Tune into your child – Identify the triggers that can prevent the child from concentrating. In Rohan’s case, a change in the timing of the activity helped Rohan to perform his task with much calm and ease.
Cut out all environmental distractions such as television, radio or any other noise during the activity that may interfere with the attention.
Set realistic goals and map them to understand the progress of the child over a sustained period of time.
Break down the activity into smaller steps. This prevents the child from getting overwhelmed and focus on one part before moving to the next.
Recognize the tension points for a child that can cause aggression or discomfort and remove them through different calming techniques ( as will be listed in my subsequent article )
Avoid pressurizing the child to focus or complete a task as that can cause him anxiety and impede his learning.
If the child shows a lack of interest in the activity, intersperse the activity with another that interests him and then get back to the previous activity. This can be used as a tool for positive reinforcement for the child, to focus on the given task.
Understand the learning style of your child is another key factor. Many kids on the spectrum are visual learners. Visual aids such as picture cards, visual schedules, support and develop learning in a big way.
Last but not least, praise your child abundantly for even the smallest effort that he makes.
Hope this was helpful!
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