Supporting attention and concentration

Our occupational therapists here at Cooee work with children and their families to support them to fulfill their occupational roles in their everyday life. For kids, occupational roles include being son, daughter, friend, and learner. 

To engage in these occupational roles, we need to be able to attend to a task, and follow instructions. To do this, we need to keep our body regulated long enough to assist our brains to take on the instruction, make sense of it and follow through.

To help your child to attend and concentrate, we can consider this from two perspectives: sensory processing, and executive functioning

Sensory processing is our bodies ability to filter important sensory information from unimportant sensory information. 

8 sensory systems: 

  • Auditory input: What we hear, noise, volume pitch and tone.
  • Visual input: What we see, colours, shapes, movement.
  • Tactile input: What we feel, pressure, temperature, texture
  • Olfactory (smell) input: What we smell
  • Oral input: What we taste or feel around our mouth
  • Proprioceptive input: Resistance and body position information detected in tendons and muscles.
  • Vestibular input: Position in space, movement and speed detected in the inner ear.
  • Interoception: Recognising body cues and making meaning of these. 

Ways to support attention and concentration through a sensory lens: 

  • Minimise competing background noise (TV, music, etc.) and visual clutter. Clear the workspace. 
  • Ensure they are able to look at you and focus on what you are saying and visually doing.
  • Couple your words with an action so it consolidates what you are asking them to do (e.g. when you say ‘go and clean your teeth’, pretend to brush your teeth and point at your teeth).
  • Give them time to process and respond, rather than asking if they understand or repeating the direction straight away.
  • Schedule movement breaks throughout the day or before homework to give their bodies time to reset.
  • Use vestibular and proprioceptive input to organise and reset the nervous system. 

Executive functions/skills are our higher-level skills that help us to:

  • Initiate – get started on a task or instruction
  • Inhibit – inhibit impulse actions, thoughts or behaviours at the appropriate time
  • Shift – ability to move between activities and tasks smoothly
  • Emotional Control – our ability to monitor and regulate our emotions and emotional responses
  • Working Memory – hold information in our mind and use it in what we do e.g. remembering 3 directions and carrying all three out
  • Planning – plan what we need to do to get a task finished
  • Organisation of materials – organise our belongings to that we can find them and use them consistently
  • Self-Monitor – monitor our behaviours and actions in relation to others
  • Task-Monitor – monitor what we are doing in a task to ensure we follow through on our plan and complete it the way we need to

Ways to support attention and concentration through an executive functioning lens: 

  • Break down the task into smaller pieces. This can support a child to know how to start a task (initate), and can feel less overwhelming (supporting emotional control). 
  • Use visual schedules or visual timers to outline expectations (e.g., what tasks are being completed, how long for, and what is coming next). This can support a child to plan for and predict what is coming next (helping with shift and emotional control), and also help them to remember what they need to do (helping with working memory). 
  • Use predictability and consistency to your advantage (to support planning and organsing materials). Provide labeled bins or folders for belongings, teaching children to consistently place items in their designated spaces. This helps reduce distractions and supports an organised environment.

If you are still having difficulty, our occupational therapy specialists are here to help. Give Cooee Speech Pathology a call if you have any questions.

Written in 2024 by Renee Williams (Occupational Therapist)