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by Ms Madhu Singh, Special Educator at SUNRISE LEARNING

A parent, care giver or educator who strives to engage a child in a learning activity is well aware of the challenge that he or she faces everyday — that of attracting and retaining the attention of the learner in the activity. Attention is a key skill for learning, and there are some well thought out steps that can be made a part of daily play or activity time which will gradually build attention spans.

Here are some strategies to improve attention in a child.


· Foremost start with the activities that your child likes the most and hold his interest. For example- sensory activities like listening to music and tapping on the beats together, playing floor games etc. This simple step will draw his/her attention towards the activity.

· When the child finishes a task quickly, you can reward him/her with lots of praise. Positive reinforcement will increase the child’s attention span slowly and steadily.


Visuals are concrete, offer a very consistent mode of learning, where attention can be directed easily. Auditory information is volatile, and evaporates fast, as soon as it is spoken. So the BEST WAY to increase attention, is to give information through clear simple visuals (written words/ pictures/ objects), depending on the functional, comprehension, cognitive level of the learner. Best mode of teaching-learning is of course multi-sensory, so other sensory inputs like kinesthetic (learn by doing) can also be combined, with auditory inputs (learn by hearing). But the visual learning (learn by seeing) should be the mainstay.


If your learner is in a state of calm, he/she is connected, relaxed, happy, looking forward to learning, he/she will automatically be able to pay attention to your teaching, coz his/ her brain is ready to receive the information. So the learner will give you a GREEN LIGHT and you will get clear indications, that he/she is READY TO ACCEPT some new CHALLENGES, right now. But when your learner is in a dysregulated state of mind, seeking self-stimulation, seems to be disconnected/ withdrawn, you can read the RED LIGHT and try to connect with the child in other ways called co-regulation (like joining in whatever he/she wants to do right now), rather than motivating/ “forcing” him/her to pay attention to a new task.


· We know that giving eye-contact is really difficult for people on the autism spectrum, and they find it extremely challenging to look into the eyes of people, and also listen to the instructions, and try to process the information, all at the same time, so WE NEVER FORCE EYE CONTACT, and respect the individual’s need to look away, to pay attention, as long as they are paying attention !!! So, if the learner is focussed, listening, paying attention, while looking in some other direction, “eye contact” is the last thing that we need to worry about. But it is very important to teach your child to “pay attention” to “people” when they are talking, or giving instructions, and not only to his/her favourite activity or toys. Some games can be introduced that encourage looking at each other, for building a better bond. For Example: Let the child put a bindi on your face and you can talk to the child while they do that; put a mask on your face and callout the child’s name; put a joker’s nose on and call out your child’s name.

· Eventually your child will start looking at your face when you call out his name. It might take some time for your child to learn to do so, but these baby steps will definitely take you in the right direction.


· If it’s a sitting activity that you want to focus on, always make sure to sit at eye level of your child; Like on a table and chair, or a mat on the floor, with a study stool/ table/ hard pillows (to serve as tables).

If your learner is not ready to start with sitting activities, get the attention, in play/ movement activities first.

Start with 1 minute-2 minutes-3 minutes sitting activities (of interest), with count till 10–20–30 and so on, followed by reinforcements.


· While engaging your learner in activities always make sure to give simple and clear instruction for the activities.

· Repeat your instructions maximum two times, followed by a latency gap (processing time) of 5–10–15 seconds and then make him/her carry out the action with the physical prompt (if needed). But when you give an instruction, ALWAYS FOLLOW THROUGH.

· Copy your child’s action and behaviours which will attract him/her to look at you. It will intrigue your child whether you will copy his/her action again or not; and thus he/she will engage better in the activity

Example: Instead of asking your child about a person or an object always call out the person/ object and point towards it

❌ Tell me who is your father in this picture.

✅ Point Papa.

· Because of the child’s limitation of comprehension, too many words might makes him anxious; thus always be sure to make your commands crisp.


· Removing all the distractions before starting the activity plays a major role in dedicating more of the child’s attention towards the activity automatically.

· The child might be sensory overloaded or overwhelmed with the surroundings like bright lights, loud noise, hunger etc. which can eventually lead to lack of focus.

Thus, always make sure to switch off the TV, keep away mobile and also make sure that there is no music playing around the sitting area. The best trick to avoid distractions is to make the child sit on a tabletop, facing the wall to avoid distractions, if any.


· It is very important to let your child know, how long is the activity going to last; if the child is unaware of the end parameter of the day’s activity, he/she will lose interest in the activity and will be distracted easily.

· Let the child know how many activities he has to do in order to make him understand the meaning of concept-finish after each activity.

· For eg : let the child know that when he/she is done with colouring 2 balls, the activity will be over. Some other activities can be Putting 3 beads in a thread, matching 4 colours ; sorting of 3 or 4 objects, completing 2 worksheets, arranging 5 utensils, washing 2 clothes etc


· It is an activity where you and your child can share a common focus on something (object, people, someone else) in order to interact with each other.

· It involves gaining, maintaining and shifting your child’s attention.

For example you and your child can observe his/her favourite toy, or you can both observe a train or any other vehicle passing by.

It serves as a referring tool, as when the child might need his/ her favourite toy he/she might point to it and gaze at you, thus gesturing you to get the toy for him/her.

· Sharing a focus will not only help you to communicate better with your child but it will also develop social skills such as bonding.

· The best way to improve your child’s joint attention is to teach by pointing and when the child shows interest in an object, you can mimic that interest.

· For example- You can blow bubbles near to the child’s face and see if the child’s attention is shifting towards the bubbles


· Always model for your child in order to let him/her know how to start any activity

For Example: If you want your child to collect bottles in a basket, you can show him/her how to do that first and then ask your child to put it in next and when he does it correctly you can reward him/her


· Structure and schedule predictability is a must for any small or big transition. Make your child understand by the concept of time or the number tasks he/she needs to accomplish before they can transition onto the next activity.

· Picture based schedule is one of the best methods to make your child understand the concept and get used to transition.


· Always think ahead of time; keep in mind the things that would irritate your child, and avoid anything that would be intolerable for him/her or would irritate him/her thus eventually distracting him/her from the activity.

For example: if you want your child to learn to sort rajma and chana, if he/she is a beginner, do not give too many grains to sort, instead just give 3–4 grains; which will increase the child’s confidence in himself/herself, once they accomplish the task. If your learner has already acquired that skill, and enjoys a sorting activity, make it more functional, challenging & interesting, by sorting socks, mixed daals, vegetables in fridge, utensils in kitchen, stationery etc.


Always make sure to include small, frequent breaks during the child’s activity schedule. This will allow him/her the time to relax and bounce back to the activity with even more zeal and enthusiasm. It has also been scientifically proven that deep breaths help refreshing the mind; so you can ask your child to take deep breaths during these short intervals. Some breaks are called BRAIN BREAKS simply because they act as powerful regulators: movement breaks, breathing breaks, mouthing/ munching/ blowing/ sucking breaks, sensory breaks, music breaks etc.


· Rewarding your child for finishing an activity completely and correctly will bring motivation and willingness to participate in more such activities and thus increase his/her attention towards the tasks.


15) EXERCISES & YOGA (asanas that help the brain to release neurochemicals, that enhance attention, focus and concentration). Some exercises help to DIRECTLY develop neural pathways in the brain, that increase the ability to pay attention. And so, it is recommended that all academics activities, that need “attention & focus” should be done, right after a movement activity.

16) ART (its therapeutic in many ways, one of them is to increase the brain’s ability to pay attention). So when the students who show special interest in art, are painting or coloring, their brain automatically directs the attention and focus towards the art-work. And soon after their art-work is completed, they are in the “learning-mode” for quite some time, and we can make use of that brain window to teach new skills.

17) ATTENTION GAMES (Brain Booster games, color games, all help the learners to pay attention, and try to focus, to be able to play these games). One such game that we often play in school is “LISTEN & CATCH”, where students are standing in a circle, and the teacher will take the name of a student and throw the ball towards him/her. The students need to “pay attention” and hear their name and immediately catch the ball. Similarly, in another game, the teacher says the name of a color/ or shows a color card, and the students need to throw the ball and put it into the same color basket. It needs attention to hear / see the color and then, with focus throw the ball into the basket.

18) SENSORY PLAY: like visual, auditory olfactory, tactile. Needless to say, if a learner is sensory integrated, if the senses are in sync with the external and internal environment, he/ she would be able to pay attention, focus on the task, and will enjoy the learning experiences. Therefore, it is highly recommended that before starting an activity that will need a learner’s attention, we should provide the required sensory inputs, fulfill the sensory needs, help the child to feel regulated, calm and focused.

All these tools, techniques and strategies will help us to build a stronger bond with our learner, and will definitely help the child’s brain to BE MORE AVAILABLE TO PAY ATTENTION & LEARN !


Q1. My child cannot focus on one game or activity and keeps running all the time. How can I improve his attention?

Answer: Your child could be a movement seeker, which means he/she can listen better when he/she is moving; OR once the movement needs are met (after a structured movement plan that you can create for him/her), the child will feel more regulated, and in sync, and will be able to pay more attention, at a given task. So movement activities should precede “attention” tasks, in your case. The other reason can be that your child has difficulties in “paying attention” or in “sustaining attention” or he/she gets “bored” easily and needs more activities that interest him. To enhance attention you can provide variations and more challenges in activities (some easy and some difficult), and reinforce him/her every time he/she completes 1–2 minutes of any activity with you by giving him/her happy breaks.

Please read the blog to understand this better.

Q2. How can I teach my child to wait?

Answer: Following are the tricks you can use :

· Start by putting a waiting card in the hands of your child and ask him/her to wait. (make a simple YELLOW card with WAIT written on it). It can be a concrete reminder that this is waiting time. Start with “count of 1–2” !!

· Another trick is that you can give a squeeze ball (or any other fidget toy/ book) to your child and ask him/her to wait and when the waiting period is over, ask your child to return the ball. That can gradually become a WAITING TOY, and whenever it will be given to the child, he/she will know that we need to wait.

· Or, You can choose and play your child’s favourite rhyme/ song and ask him/her to wait till the rhyme is finished. It can be a set of 4–5 rhymes/ songs that can be used “specifically” as WAITING SONGS. For eg, Old Mc Donalds is a song that can go on and on, till the cab arrives. So the child will understand that till mummy is singing this song, waiting will continue. When she stops, waiting time will be OVER.

· You can teach WAITING, by offering a favourite snack, and by asking your child to wait till the count of 2 or 3 to start with, and once 3 counts are done, he/she can eat it. Then gradually you can increase the counting from 2 to 10 to 20 to 30 and so on, thus increasing his/her waiting span.

Clarity, predictability, certainty, structure with visual supports, reinforcements, social stories are some tools that can be your best friends for teaching these key skills.



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