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A Student sitting next to Mark is tapping his pencil on the desk to the degree that Mark cannot concentrate and wants to get out of the room.
Many Students find paying attention can be hard work. However, Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention and focus can be an even more challenging. When we are asked to pay attention, we are able to focus on one thing and put other thoughts out of our mind temporarily. For example, if we are listening to music quietly while we are reading the newspaper and somebody comes in the room to ask us a question we can filter out the music and listen to what the person is saying. Paying attention is a skill that develops over time. To pay attention we need to be attentive to our surroundings so we can sort out and put together the right information.
Paying attention is a key skill for learning. For example, a Student needs to pay attention to adult requests. Students need to be able to pay attention to have positive interactions with their peers.
Students with ASD can find it increasingly challenging to focus on things that don’t interest them (reading, writing, gym etc.). However, Students with ASD can focus their attention on things they like (trains, video games, Minecraft).
Characteristics of a Student/Student with attention and focus challenges
- Student appears to struggle with understanding what she/he need to focus on. They may be aware of the “Main Idea”
- They easily get distracted or appear overwhelmed by different scents such as strong perfume/deodorant
- The student takes along time to get started on a task
- The student may not answer when their name is called
- The Student may have restricted interests/obsessive interest that can intrude on their thoughts
- The student may ignore group instructions because they don’t realize they are meant to contribute to the group.
- Student may be very rigid in what they eat and will only eat certain foods (texture/colour).
Tips for supporting Attention and Focus
- Pay attention to the student's learning environment. Students with ASD can be easily distracted by background noise, flickering lights, movement. Environments that are very busy visually can be overwhelming for the Student with ASD.
- Strong smells lie perfume/deodorants/soaps can be overwhelming for a Student with ASD. If possible, avoid strong scents in the classroom
- Eye contact is one of the first steps to help your Student pay attention to people. Try calling the students name, placing a desired object within his/her line of sight and then moving the object towards your eyes. Eventually the student may start to look towards your face when you call their name. You need to be patient and persistent as it can take awhile.
- For older students who can read, leave sticky note or reminder card with the instruction/expectations written down. These on placed on their desk or even inside the text book.
Reminder cards may be used as a visual aid to prompt the student to complete his work during class. The reminder card will outline what the expectations are for each of his classes. The cards may be placed on the inside of his binder or notebook. You can also use a sticky note and write the expectation on the sticky note and then place it on his desk.
- Visual supports are a key support strategy for all students to help with attention and concentration. A visual support refers to using a picture or other visual item to communicate with a child who has difficulty understanding or using language. Visual supports can be photographs, drawings, objects, written words, or lists.
- Keep your language clear and consistent, giving one instruction at a time. Give the student enough time to process the instruction and follow up that he understood.
- Make sure the student understands the activity and knows how to start and when to finish. Using timers will be useful for the student as it also tells them learn about the concept of time.
- Try to keep tasks functional and relent to the student and when possible incorporate their special interests. For example, if a student won't concentrate on math worksheets, but loves Thomas the tank, place a sticker of Thomas on the worksheet. This may me motivating to the student and draw their attention to the work sheet.
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