My interaction with parents and teachers in recent times brings to mind one of the numerous challenges confronting the learning ability of children with special needs, this have to do with getting such kids to pay attention. Attention and self-regulation are the foundations of learning. And this if not well managed, could cause serious problems for learning.

The questions bogging the minds of many are; what causes attention problems? Are we in the midst of an inattention “epidemic?” What can parents do to help forestall the problems or to deal with them once they arise?

While basic attention abilities may be inborn, the good news is that many attention skills can be learned. These core abilities are rooted in the physiology of the brain, but home and school environments have a lot to do with how a child learns to use his particular attention mechanisms.

Some of the Genetic factors that put children more at risk for attention deficits include, prenatal toxins, drugs and alcohol. Yet, ADHD or Attention Deficit (with or without Hyperactivity) Disorder is controversial, since definitions and testing procedures for the disorder are vague and vary greatly among different communities and professionals.

Moreover, the idea of giving one’s child a psychoactive drug is often very worrisome to a parent because of potential side effects and uncertainty about long-term outcomes. Some physicians have expressed their concerns about using a pill alone as a remedy for problems that should be addressed at a more systemic level.

While such drugs often help children (and adults) control their behavior more effectively, they are not a “cure” and should always be accompanied by behavioral treatment and careful monitoring.

The fact that many ADHD children are very bright and creative is not in contention. In fact, a number of highly successful and productive adults might have been so labeled if this category had been around when they were growing up.

However, attention changes with age. A normal lack of inhibition in a four-year-old child becomes a serious problem in a ten-year-old one. Moreover, a regularly bumptious child (usually a boy) may seem very much out of place in an overly restrictive and stressful classroom.

When normally active youngsters are condemned to desks and routine pencil-and-paper tasks all day, we should not be surprised if they show up with problems.

Many schools are increasingly restricting children’s free playtime hence; children who need to work off physical energy no longer have much luxuries of chance. Again, many children’s today are so heavily scheduled that they are actually sleep-deprived. All these factors may add up to an attention problem.

Attention difficulties are also found in many children with language or reading problems; sometimes treating the underlying condition makes it easier to focus on learning. Too much time with TV and video games also exacerbates attention difficulties so, time allotted to it should be limited.

Research has shown that there is a hereditary tendency for attention difficulties, but the brain’s chemical balance can also be changed by environmental factors.

Many of our children today rarely have a chance to experience a quiet, self-directed mind, that is not influenced by adult demands or electronic stimulation. Perhaps it is not surprising that their growing brains are showing the effects. Nonetheless, changes are still possible at any age, especially if the individual is highly motivated.

How then can positive attention habits be enhanced? Establish reasonable expectations for behavior, set clear rules, and discuss or negotiate with the children, including consequences for their actions or inaction. Check the child’s understanding by asking him or her questions about a given topic.

Giving a child emotional support, being firm, loving, and reasonably patient, empathetic, willing to listen to the child and negotiate rules can help to build positive attention habits. Emotion, motivation, and attention are bound together tightly in the brain that it is impossible to separate them from helping the children learn to pay attention.

Again, ensure a well-regulated household environment. If a child inherited the attention problem, this task is a real challenge but the child needs it. Help the child find the best stimulus level during different activities. Do not expect children to realize when they have had enough excitement. The same goes for “screen time.” It is much harder to turn off a TV or computer than to turn it on — even for adults.

In summary, establish firm limits and predictable routines, teach a child what “no” means but not punitively, make sure the child feels he or she has more say in setting rules and some choices in negotiating them, insist on a regular bedtime and adequate rest, again, insist on a noise level in the home within reasonable limits and eliminate background TV noise.

Again, keep TV sets and computers out of the child’s room and in a central area where use can be monitored insist that the child get some physical exercise every day, preferably outdoors, spend some time working with your child and showing him how to solve problems systematically, hug the child where necessary and pay attention to nutrition of the child.




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