Staying focused can be challenging for any child but particularly those with special needs. But there are tools and techniques to help keep your child happy and on task!
Find a tool or technique from the list below. Then, start your child with a task they enjoy for up to 20 minutes. Take a break, using one of the techniques, whether it’s a time clock, weighted blanket or music. If it works, have your child try a task they perceive as more difficult for 5 to 10 minutes, followed again by or using one of these techniques. Repeat this strategy until you see that your child is able to show improved attention. Gradually increase the time on task.
Here are tools and techniques to try at home:
Visualize Time — A timer can reduce stress for your child, as they see how long they have until a task is over. You can go low-tech or high. Time Timer makes a clock as well as software for the computer, which shows a child how much time he/she has left — or how much has passed — via a diminishing red disc. Search for “visual timer” apps on your iPhone, iPAD or Android device. Or, an old-fashioned sand timer does the trick too.
Play Memory Games — Memory isn’t a muscle, but it can be exercised to improve focus. Memory games are fun and do not have to be complicated. Games, such as memory matching cards or Concentration, can be played as a board game or on an iPad/iPhone or Android device. Even a simple game of red-light, green-light, I-Spy or Simon Says forces a child to concentrate.
Puzzles — There are many types of puzzles that can help boost your child’s awareness, while building fine motor skills. But keep in mind that puzzles don’t always have to be something you touch. For example, word searches, crossword puzzles, tic tac toe and logic puzzles, use the power of deduction to help your child discover answers, by relying on the mind, not just eyes and hands.
Movement and Breaks — Give your child opportunities to move around. Schedule regular breaks and change work sites. For example, a child can work several minutes at the kitchen table and several minutes at the dining room table. Each time the location is changed, the student may experience a burst of mental energy. A 10- to 15-minute break for light to heavy physical activity can also help increase concentration. Examples of activities include walking on a treadmill, wall push-ups or a brief walk. Learn about relaxation through breathing techniques at “Go Zen Mindfulness and Breathing.” Additionally, it may help for children to do something with their hands, while seated. They might doodle, roll a piece of clay or play with thinking putty.
Deep Pressure — A weighted blanket/pillow used for 10 to 20 minutes, while working can provide deep pressure and increase attention. Additionally, compression tops, like those worn by athletes underneath their shirts, may work similar to a weighted blanket/pillow. Have your child wear the shirt for 10 to 20 minutes.
Tuning In — Taking a 10-minute break to listen to quiet classical or calming music can help a child refocus to a task that may be difficult or monotonous but necessary to complete.
In addition to these techniques and tools, setting up a regular routine and work area is important.
Plan It — A child should use a structured daily planner to help them organize activities. A planner that is broken down by days of the week or days of the month and has sufficient room to write all the information needed or to place stickers in the date box is preferred. Using a calendar or a calendar app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device is also a good life skill.
Child’s Home Office — Help your child set up a well-organized “office.” Parents should schedule a weekly time that their child/adolescent will dedicate to straightening up the office and making sure all office supplies are well-stocked (e.g., Post-Its, pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, paper clips, etc). The child should find their best time(s) for studying (most alert times of day), and post these times as their “Office Hours.” This may also be a good time to experiment with different kinds of background noise levels that work best for doing homework. Some children/adolescents concentrate better in a noisy environment or while listening to music, while others may need to use ear plugs or sound blockers.
Results will not be immediate, but with practice and consistency, your child’s attention and focus should increase over time!
By Cindy Collins, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, ECLC Chatham School