What are attention skills? 

The ability to obtain and stay focussed on a task for the duration of the activity is down to their ability to pay attention. The ability to pay attention can be can be influenced by the individuals motivation, self-esteem, sensory integration, practice, language or learning difficulties and any other existing diagnosis. 

Why do we need attention skills?

Effective attention skills enables us to focus on a specific task and filter out irrelevant information and distractions. This also means that we are able to pay attention to a specific activity giving it an appropriate amount of time to and energy. This is an essential skill for all areas of life including academic work; hobbies and interests and social skills development in all areas of life. 

It enables us to pay attention to the important details and ignore all the background stimulation.  (E.g. being able to learn how to ride a bike – you need to be able to ignore all the surrounding noise; smells and distractions. It is also needed in order to understand the instructions you are being given for example  an instruction e.g. go upstairs; clean your teeth then go to bed; put your shoes on before going outside  etc.

Underlying skills needed the for the development of Attention 

  • Sensory Processing Skills
  • Executive functioning 
  • Self-regulation Skills
  • The ability to understand Language 
  • To ability to hear and interpret the instructions must be developed if the Hearing impairment this can have an affect their ability to pay attention.
  • The child must be   motivated to develop a new skill
  • The environment must be suitable for the child to learn

What would the signs of lack of attention include? 

  • The child would not be able to attend to a task when he/she was asked, especially if it is something the child has no interest in.
  • The child may miss some details from the instructions 
  • The child will have difficulty remembering how to complete tasks and does not appear to learn from past experiences. 
  • The child may have difficulty listening  to all of the information provided
  • The child has difficulty calming down when they are excited on distressed (e.g. they are too physically active) 
  • The child may have difficulty to alert themselves e.g.  ‘Wake up’ as they appearing sleepy lethargic and uninterested. 
  • The child will begin a task but becomes easily distracted and forgets to what they were asked to do.

Some difficulties associated with attention may include:

  • The child may struggle to learn a new skill. 
  • They may struggle with social interaction.
  • The child may have limited play skills and struggle with imagination. 
  • The child may have difficulty following instructions. 
  • The child may struggle to understand receptive language.
  • The child can struggle with auditory processing.

What can I do to help?

  • Repeat instructions several times. Make them as simple as possible
  • Get the child to repeat the instructions back to you to clarify that they have understood it. 
  • It is important to achieve eye good contact while talking to the child and giving instructions.
  • Try get close to the child and get them to look at you to ensure they are able to hear and see you.
  • Use a calm and steady voice that conveys the message clearly.
  • Try to use as simplified language as possible
  • Be clear and specific about what you are wanting them to do.  If necessary, show them by physically demonstrating it or through visual representation e.g. photos or picture cards.
  • Reduce background noise and distractions.
  • Improve the child’s use and understanding of receptive language so that they are able to understand the expectations and information given to them. 

Activities to help 

  • Obstacle course
  • Wheelbarrow walking 
  • Animal walks 
  • Jumping on a trampoline or trampet 
  • Cycling o Swings (forward and back, side to side, rotary) 
  • Rough and tumble play 
  • Squeeze or sandwiching with pillows or balls 
  • Wearing a heavy backpack 
  • Weighted items (wheat bag on lap while sitting or heavy blanket for sleep) 
  • Chewy toys 
  • Activities that have a defined start and end point such as Puzzles, Construction tasks, mazes, dot to dot.  
  • Sorting, organising and categorising activities- card games such as Uno, Snap or Bingo 
  • Visual timetables to enable the child to see and understand what is going to happen next. Timetables also help people to organise themselves and to plan ahead.  
  • Timers help with transitions as they tell the child how long and when they are going to have to do an activity. Timers enable a clear warning to the child that the activity they are engaged with is going to change and make the transition from one task to another easier. 
  • For children who are constantly talking and have difficulty listening it is worth considering the use of “Talking/question counters”:  For small periods of time where the child is engaged in a specific task/activity it may be useful to consider this – the idea is that a child has a limited amount of questions that they can ask. Each time they ask a question take a counter from them. When they child has no more counters the adult does not respond and a child. This encourages the child to learn to hold onto questions and when to ask only when needed.
  • Auditory processing: Gradually increase the amount of distraction whilst your child completes a task. Start by doing the task in silence, then in white noise (e.g. static on the radio), then with classical music, commercial talk back radio and finally with conversation between others in the room. 

What would therapy do? 

  • Complete an assessment to ensure a child is able to complete tasks both academic and social
  • To develop social interaction, behaviour and play skills. 
  • To help the child cope with school transitions from one task to another. 
  • Help the child develop receptive and expressive language skills. 
  • Help the child stay positive with good confidence and self-esteem. Poor self-confidence can lead to difficulties with their academic skills. 
  • The child may develop inappropriate behaviour as they struggle to regulate themselves effectively to be able to attend to a specific task for any length of time. 
  • Help to improve the child focus and attention to detail. 
  • The child may have difficulties engaging in small group projects or school work, therapy can help the child develop these skills.
  • Therapy can help the child to develop their ability to  follow instructions at school 
  • Therapy can help improve the child ability to concentrate and focus allowing them to make friends.