Sensory Processing and Focus
Spring is in the air! It seems as an occupational therapist in the schools one of the main things I am always asked about is how to make children pay attention and focus on their work. This time of the year is always hard when kids want to be outside playing, instead of being inside working. When adults or parents come to me with this complaint, I always like them to reflect on their own needs and whether it is hard for them to sit and pay attention as adults. Especially when it is beautiful outside.
What do you as an adult do to help you pay attention? I will use myself as an example, an extreme example… I have trouble sitting still during workshops or lectures. To stay alert I may drink a cold drink, chew gum, eat a crunchy snack, shake my leg, take a bathroom break, doodle, chew on my pen…. When I am driving and feel tired, I open my car window and let cold air in to stay alert. When I look at my sensory needs it makes it easier to realize how hard it must be for a child to sit in their seat for hours on end in a classroom listening to their teacher or doing homework. They may need suggestions and guidance to find strategies that work for them.
Part of my job as an occupational therapist is to try to be a detective and see what may work for a specific child in a classroom or at home doing their homework. I also try to talk to teachers about starting their day on the playground and I discuss incorporating movement breaks into their day. I encourage teachers to provide fidget toys (with rules in place around use) and allow their students to stand while working or move around while listening. There are many inexpensive adaptations that can be made to a chair to allow for movement while sitting. Many children are able to listen better while doodling. I try to encourage teachers and parents to understand that a child may not look like they are paying attention, but they may be.