Hello! My name is Jessica, and I am an occupational therapist at Partners in Excellence. I have been practicing as an occupational therapist for one and a half years and treat clients at the Minnetonka Partners in Excellence location. One of the many reasons why I love Partners is that I enjoy helping our clients gain skills related to fine motor, gross motor, self-care, and self-regulation for them to be successful and independent within their daily lives. I also love collaborating with parents and caregivers as well as ABA clinical team members to provide the best quality care for our clients.
Today, Sydnie Merriman-Ferri, OTS and I will be discussing the topic of attention. Attention is defined as the ability to obtain and sustain focus on a certain task. A child’s attention may be influenced by internal motivation, sensory integration, distractions within the environment and language barriers.
There are four main types of attention:
- Joint attention: when two people focus on an object or event when interacting with each other. For example, reading a book with your child at bedtime.
- Selective attention: when you block out certain features to focus on a particular feature or event. For example, having your child attend to a writing task when there is background noise.
- Divided attention: when you are paying attention to two things at once. For example, having your child watch a video on how to brush their teeth while completing the task.
- Sustained attention: when you focus on an event, detail, or task within the environment for a prolonged period of time. For example, having your child complete a 4-5 step arts and crafts activity.
You may notice times in which your child has a hard time attending and maintaining attention to a task. Do you have a hard time finding things that your child is interested in? Do you notice your child shifting in their seat or wanting to get up and move frequently? Is your child often times distracted by visual or auditory stimuli within the environment? These are all questions that can be answered with the help of your occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant!
One strategy that you can use at home to improve attention is called Wait, Watch and Wonder.
- Wait to see what your child’s idea is.
- Watch to see how they interact with their environment.
- Wonder, “How can I engage in their play idea.”
Children have vast imaginations and sometimes explaining those ideas can be difficult for your child. Taking a moment to step back and watch their idea manifest can allow you time to understand how you can jump into their world and watch their engagement blossom. Becoming part of the child’s play idea, you as a parent can help shape and add functional skills by accessing what motivates your child. From study done in 2018, “Most parents explained that the best way to play (and gain attention) with their child was by immersing themselves in the type of play the child had already established”. For example, when a child can pick out a book to read you can engage in reading the book with your child while integrating attention by asking the child simple questions about the book. “What animal is that?” or “He is ___” (child says jumping).
A second strategy to improve attention is using sensory integration methods. Please be sure to consult an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant before implementing sensory strategies. If you notice your child fidgeting in their seat, wanting to get up and move around the room or has trouble staying seated for a prolonged period of time, this may be due to your child’s need to self-regulate. By providing regulating and organizing sensory input to their nervous system, this can help them to regulate their arousal and prepare them for learning. It is recommended to do 5-10 minutes of sensory activities prior to attending to a functional task. Here are some sensory strategies you can try at home:
- Doing animal walk relay races (bear walk, crab walk, seal walk, etc.)
- Doing yoga poses
- Swinging in a back-and-forth motion on the playground or outside
- Wearing a compression/weighted vest
- Engaging in a sensory bin (rice, sand, slime, play doh, etc.)
- Carrying, pushing or pulling heavy objects
- Listening to calming/rhythmic music
A third strategy you can use at home in order to improve attention is to reduce or eliminate environmental distractions. Children can attend and focus more efficiently when distractions within the environment are limited. By reducing visual and auditory stimuli, your child will be able to focus most of their attention on the task at hand. Here are some strategies you can try at home in order to reduce environmental distractions:
- Turn off electronic devices (TV, tablets, iPad, etc.)
- Reduce auditory sensory input (For example: turn off music/radio, move to a quiet environment, put on noise cancelling headphones)
- Reduce visual distractions (For example: turn your child facing away from windows, face them away from visual stimuli on the walls such as pictures, position them in an environment with limited toys and objects)
- Set them up for success (For example: position your child in a location and environment where they will be successful)
With the help from an occupational therapist and/or occupational therapy assistant, you can work towards improving your child’s ability to focus and attend to functional daily living tasks and activities. Keep in mind to wait, watch and wonder to channel their internal motivation, provide sensory tools for self-regulation and use strategies and set them up for success by limiting environmental distractions.
Our occupational therapy team is excited to continue to contribute to our Partners’ blog this year to offer insight into our field. Be on the lookout for more posts from our occupational therapists and certified occupational therapy assistants!
“Attention and Concentration”. (2021). Retrieved from: https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/attention-and-concentration/
“Metacognitive Self-regulated Learning and Sensory Integrative Approaches for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders”. (2018). https://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT02496819 2015; null(null): null.
Mazarin, Jade. (2021). “Attention as a Part of Cognitive Development: Definition and Process”. Retrieved from: https://study.com/academy/lesson/attention-as-part-of-cognitive-development-definition-process.html
Román-Oyola, R., Figueroa-Feliciano, V., Torres-Martínez, Y., Torres-Vélez, J., Encarnación-Pizarro, K., Fragoso-Pagán, S., & Torres-Colón, L. (2018). Play, Playfulness, and Self-Efficacy: Parental Experiences with Children on the Autism Spectrum. Occupational Therapy International, 1–10. https://doi-org.ezproxylr.med.und.edu/10.1155/2018/4636780