Puppies!! Kittens!! Gotcha!

Well, now that I have your attention, let's chat. Wait, did I get your attention? If you like puppies and kittens then I probably did. If not, maybe you skipped on to the next post. The point I am trying to make (while I still have your attention) is that getting the attention of others is often the first and last place our skills can fall apart. Too many times I have seen well-intentioned teachers and parents give perfectly good commands only to have them fall apart because the child was not paying attention. If you have been married long enough, had a friend long enough, or been an employee long enough, you know that sooner or later something important is not going to happen because you or someone else was not paying attention. It's a big deal. For individuals with autism and other disabilities, paying attention can be an uphill climb. If a child has a disability that makes paying attention more difficult, and an adult gives them an instruction that they miss, they are likely going to be corrected or reprimanded. This makes is less likely they will pay attention to that person in the future. It can be a tough cycle. 

Still with me? Good!

There's good news: attention skills can be taught. Attention skills can be learned. Here are three tips to help improve your child's attention:

  1. Encourage Uni-tasking: Too often we pride ourselves on multi-tasking for efficiency, but research is increasingly demonstrating that this may not be as productive as we think. Kids who play on a tablet, listen to music, and watch television all at the same time are dividing their attention to all three tasks. This shallow attention can not only impede what is being learned, but also how much they enjoy the activity. Make a rule in your household: One thing at a time. Then make sure you model that rule yourself. 
  2. Use time limits and specific goals: Our attention is more likely to wander when we engage in open ended tasks with no specified end in sight. Help your children set specific, achievable goals, and set time limits on achieving them. For example, rather than saying, "Go work on your math homework", try "Let's do 10 problems, I'll set a timer for 15 minutes". 
  3. Limit distractions: This sounds like common sense, but it can be difficult to do if you are not sure what distractions are most likely to "hook" your child. While doing homework in their room may seem like the least distracting environment, it may also contain the activities that are most rewarding for them (e.g., electronics) that compete with their attention. Conversely, sitting at the dining room table may be difficult for children who crave social attention because the solitude of homework can not compete with potential conversations and fun with others. You may need to try different environments to determine which has the most benefit for your child. 
Donna Thiele