I often write about reading skills being the single most important skill for your dyslexic child to learn, but you actually have a more important issue to remedy if your child has attention issues.
What do we mean by attention issues?
You, most likely, already know what giving something your full attention looks like - you are alert and you stop yourself from being distracted either by things going on around you or by other thoughts in your head. You have the ability to focus in on the task at hand. You probably also know how easy or difficult you find this to do and we all have days where we feel unfocused and unable to concentrate.A lot of children with dyslexia experience attention difficulties for a large part of their day.
What do attention problems look like?
If this is your child, then they do not find it easy to decide what should get their attention with the result that they 'flit' between different things and can't keep their mind focused on a task for more than a few minutes at a time. They jump between lots of different activities or they may sit and day dream.
Why does your child have attention issues?
If your child has been assessed as having dyslexia or you strongly suspect that they do, then they will have a weak working memory. According to Jodi Holmes of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University, working memory in children helps to maintain their focus in the classroom and also supports their learning.
What effect does this have on their learning?
To take in information your child needs to give it their attention. If they aren't giving their attention ( because they are distracted or they are unaware what they should be concentrating on) then they will not take in the information. In effect, they are missing out on a lot of learning which is going to affect their school performance.
What do teachers report as being the results of inattention?
The key problems that teachers see as a result of inattention are poor academic progress, difficulty in following multi-step instructions, failure to complete tasks, problems keeping their place in complex activities such as writing as well as the child showing distracted behaviour such as day dreaming or being disruptive.
How can you ensure your child progresses at school?
It is a scary thought that most of your child's learning every day could be lost through attention difficulties. However, your child's teacher can put in place classroom strategies to help your child to get the most from their day, including:
- breaking tasks down into smaller chunks
- providing written or pictorial instructions for your child to refer to
-using memory aids
- having a classroom culture where your child can ask for any clarification they need
- having your child at the front of the classroom so they don't get easily distracted
Having a good and supportive working relationship with your child's teacher can help you ensure that these kind of strategies are put in place for your child. This is also good educational practice for an inclusive classroom so don't be afraid to discuss it.
What can you do at home?
I have put lots of ideas that you can implement at home, which I have used successfully with my own clients, into an earlier blog post about concentration which you can read here.
The key point is that attention is a skill that you can help your child to develop which will then enable them to take in more information at school and improve their school performance.
The strategies that I have found the most helpful are:
- talking to your child about their attention difficulties and start making them aware of when they let their attention wonder away ( this may be making them aware of how long they focus and when they start to day dream or start chatting about unrelated things). Once they are more aware of their behaviour, they have a better chance of being able to correct it.
- working with your child's personality rather than working against them. This means making sure you start with higher interest activities and then discussing what giving the task their attention felt like; allowing them to move around whilst concentrating on a task ( some children find it very difficult to sit still at a table) or allowing them to be sat on the floor whilst focusing on a task ( such as a game or even homework).
The key points to take away are:
- inattention and lack of concentration are key problems affecting school performance
- teachers can put strategies in place in the classroom to help your child focus on their tasks
- you can improve your child's attention span at home
You can read more about working memory here.
You can also join my free Facebook group here to receive tips and ideas to help make your dyslexic child's learning less frustrating and more rewarding.