While the Attention Arcade is great for strengthening attention skills over time, we know that parents sometimes need ideas to help with attention skills in the moment. So, we reached out to the occupational therapist (OT) community to get some ideas.
We got lots of ideas as OTs see different challenges and approach them differently:
“For attention, I almost always use a visual schedule and visual timer during sessions, especially since many kids have not grasped the concept of time quite yet.”
— Beth Vidmar, OTD, OTR/L, LEC
“Some may seem pretty simple and obvious but they really do work.
* Drinking thick liquids with a straw (sucking activates the proprioceptive system and is alerting)
* Drinking sparkling water (fizzy is alerting)
* Sucking on a sweet/sour hard candy (sour also alerting)
* Eating chewy foods while working (same reasoning with gum and sucking) such as beef jerky, dried fruit, raisins, licorice
* Crunch foods such as pretzels
Vestibular Strategies (movement)
* Sitting on a yoga ball while at desk/computer
* Tie a bungee cord or theraband around the chair’s legs so that your child can kick and stretch their feet.
* Sit on “sit and move” or “wiggle” cushion
* sit on a “T-stool” or swivel chair
Proprioceptive Strategies – heavy work and activating muscles and joints is also alerting. It is usually recommended to receive proprioceptive input prior to doing an activity requiring sustained focus and attention such as reading, during class and doing homework.
Any activity that activates muscles such as running, jumping, carrying heavy items, chair or wall push ups, etc provides proprioceptive input.
Tactile Strategies – fidgets such as gummy erasers, a stress ball, a small bit of play dough, Wikki Sticks, pipe cleaners, or rubber bands, wrapped around a pencil, strand of paper clips
Olfactory Strategies: Peppermint and lemon scents are alerting; vanilla and rose scents are calming”
— Debbie McNulty, Pediatric Occupational Therapist
“Social stories, peer/therapist modeling, visual schedules, and heavy work (proprioceptive and vestibular input) prior to seated tasks have been successful for me thus far.”
— Jennifer Sung, MOT, OTR/L
“1) Exercise for 5-10 minutes before beginning an activity. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain which can help with attention, executive function and memory.
2) Choose to work in a place that has minimal distractions. Use headphones to keep noises out, and sit facing a wall to not be visually distracted.
3) Use a list of steps needed to complete an activity. Check off steps completed as you go through the task.
4) Use a timer to keep track of time
5) Take movement breaks every 5, 10, 15 minutes depending on when it is needed. Time between breaks can slowly be increased as you’re able to attend for a longer time.
6) Have a reward at the end of an activity such as a favorite toy, iPad, or snack.”
— Melissa Talavera, OT for NYC Schools
“Have you tried breaking the task into smaller segments? Or incorporating things that motivate them to attend to the activity? Another OT intervention is allowing the child to lead the activity and the therapist gradually builds on the activity. I’ve also incorporated therapeutic listening which is a specialized treatment that is extremely helpful to modulate sensory input.”
— Lani Nguyen, MS, OTR/L