"…entered his left ear,
and before they could penetrate his brain, [were] ejected out his
right ear at nearly the speed of light."
When the father finally yells his request,
his son Robert has no idea why his dad could possibly be so irritated.
Sound familiar to you?
What so many people want to know about Robert is this:
Does this mean that Robert
has Attention Deficit
Probably not. But then, attention focus
problems occur in everyone from time to time,
not just to those with A.D.D. Let's face it, we all have problems
focusing our attention at times. Attention focus becomes a problem
only when it is out of our control…when it controls us and interferes
with our learning and daily lives.
Three Categories of Common Attention Disruption
Excessive Activity (constant movement, either physical or
Attention focus problems have many "faces." There
are different types and they may look different on different people.
The good news is that most can be overcome with proper training.
Below are three broad categories of common attention
focus disruption and some of the issues, or symptoms,
that individuals may be dealing with daily.
For these individuals, the body is in constant motion and out of control.
They have too much unchanneled physical energy. They always seem to
be playing with something, can't seem to stay in their seat, and in
fact, often prefer to work standing up.
Mentally their attention may be jumping from one thought to another
too fast to fully absorb anything.
Some have an inability to filter out unimportant things
and focus on what is relevant. They pay equal attention
to everything. The ability to focus on the important stimuli and
let everything else be in the background is called figure-ground
. A child with an auditory figure ground problem may
find the hum of the air conditioner, feet shuffling, pencils writing,
a classmate whispering, and a page turning to be equally as loud
and demanding of his or her attention as the teacher's voice.
A person with a visual figure ground problem may live in a world
that looks like a page from Where's Waldo . They see everything
but nothing stands out as important. On a written page, the white
spaces may stand out as prominently as the letters, making it almost
impossible to focus on anything.
Distractibility (external and internal)
Distractibility is different from figure-ground in that the
individuals can focus their attention on something. But they tend
to shift their focus easily and remain
there instead of shifting back to what they were doing. Distractions
may be external or internal. Individuals with creative, active minds
can often wander way off target and become absorbed in their own visualizations,
triggered perhaps by a single word that they heard or read.
Many dyslexic and A.D.D. individuals are highly intelligent
and highly visual. They often tend to be creative, "right-brained"
thinkers, who think in concepts and pictures. They may have the
ability to see in dimension, to mentally "see" objects from all
sides. This perceptual talent lends itself to drawing, building,
putting things together, and recalling concrete or visual information.
Disorientation - the loss of focus triggered by confusion - for
these individuals is almost always associated with efforts to work
with symbols or to listen
. When the person experiences confusion about symbols
(such as letters or numbers), his brain really wants to understand.
If this person, who can easily "see" in dimension, goes to his most
comfortable thinking style, he can perceive the letter or word from
different angles, recoding different images
of the word or letter in his mind and making it hard to retrieve
Disorientation can be triggered by overwhelm,
particularly with language. If there seems to be too much information,
the individual may become disoriented and lose track of what is
going on around him.
Another common characteristic of disorientation is that it often
throws-off a person's internal time clock. He or she may start working
or talking extremely fast or extremely slowly. A student who loses
his focus may find at the end of a 20 minute math period that he
has written only one problem. He truly doesn't know where the time
has gone and may be angry at the teacher for not giving the class
time to do the assignment.
Strategies For Teaching Attention Focus
Children and adults with these types of attention
focus problems are not in control of their attention and generally
do not recognize when they have gotten distracted or disoriented.
Many things can be done to help a child to be more successful at
paying attention at any one moment. The atmosphere of the Learning
Center, when the students work one-to-one in a quiet place is set-up
for it. The clinicians can sit close to the students and constantly
refocus them. Unfortunately, the "real world" isn't like that.
To be independent learners, children
must also be taught how to attend. The Stowell Learning Center is
built on the premise that children and adults with at least average
intellectual potential can and should become proficient readers.
We believe that about attention focus also. Children and adults
CAN learn to be in control of their own attention.
There are several different techniques that can be employed to
facilitate attention control, including Edu-K, Orientation Counseling,
and floor balance and balance beam work. While most of these strategies
require training to use them properly,
there are some basic steps critical to
any attention focus training.
First, the individual must learn to recognize what
it feels like to be "on" (focused) and "off" (unfocused).
Have the student walk forward and backward on a line on the floor,
keeping his eyes focused on a spot on the wall. Or have the student
toss and catch a beanbag, keeping his eyes on the beanbag as it goes
up and down.
Guide the student verbally using a slow, soft voice. The key is for
the student to be able to wok on the line or toss the beanbag with
slow, controlled movements. As the student gains control of his balance
and movements, he is also increasing his attention control. Through
questioning, help him to think about what it feels like to be focused.
Help him "remember" this feeling so that he can transfer it to homework,
Second, guide the student in recognizing what happens,
what he does, when is "off" or loses his focus (eyes defocus, turns
pale, looks around, starts talking or writing at warp speed, stumbles
over words, slows/slurs his speech, etc.).
Third, the student and teacher or parent must recognize
what triggered the confusion or loss of focus. The confusion must
be eliminated or the confusing pieces (such as letters or words) must
And finally, the student must have a strategy for
getting back "on." This can often be done by applying the same techniques
that were used in step one.
Permission to Pay Attention
Individuals sometimes need to be taught to give themselves
permission to refocus their attention. For example, one of our students
became very distracted by the sound of a metronome in an adjacent
room. His session was totally disrupted because he could not stop
listening to it.
However, after exploring what the noise was, and practicing giving
himself permission to stop listening to it, he was able, on several
later occasions to say, "Oh, I know what the clicking noise is.
I don't have to listen to that anymore" and return to his task.
Students can learn to give themselves permission to quit paying
attention to classroom distractions such as the pencil sharpener,
in this way also.
Programs and References for Attention Focus Techniques
Davis. R. Davis Orientation Master Training (Inservice Training
services) Burlingame, CA: Reading Research Council. (1799 Old Bayshore
Highway, Suite 248, Burlingame, CA 94010 Dennison, P. and Dennison,
G. (1989) Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition. (Manual to explain, instruct,
and facilitate movement activities for whole brain learning (Glendale,
CA: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc. (P.O. Box 5002, Glendale, CA 91201) Smith,
J.M. (1991) You Don't Have To Be Dyslexic. Sacramento, CA: Learning
Time Publications (4436 Engle Road, Sacramento, CA)