Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shifting Attention

A parent on an RDI(r) and autism related internet group asked about how to work on attention shifting with a son.

Here's my question for that parent: Is his experience, "I don't have to shift my attention while sharing attention with people because someone will do that for me by telling me when to look or showing me with a point." ?

I'm a parent, too. So, this is unofficial, layman's viewpoint, parent-to-parent, unprofessional, I am not a professional nor do I play one on this blog kind of observation and advice from my experience as a parent. Thanks to Dr Gutstein for teaching me the concept that the child needs to feel himself or herself taking his or her own action.

Here's what I'm beginning to understand -- and it took a homeschooling-teacher-expert to explain it to me using the example of math. I blogged a little bit about it here. Functions like attention shifting always begin in the concrete. Abstract attention shifting is a later developmental step.

I'd suggest that the parent look for some ways to allow the child the opportunity to shift attention in really concrete (manipulative mode) ways, shifting his body, which is concrete and "manipulative mode" (not just his gaze, which is more abstract) to orient himself toward you. Give him the opportunity -- you have to think about it that way -- instead of trying to "get" him to do attention shift. It'll involve the parent slowing down and being quiet. (I blogged about the same expert and opportunities to learn here).

Most families can find something routine from their day like setting the table to offer some concrete (manipulative mode) attention shifting that involve some physical shifting as well.

You offer him each plate and wait silently for him to orient himself toward you, accept it from you by reaching for it (feeling himself taking his own action), and set it on the table. You hand him each utensil. Each napkin. Each condiment. By shifting your own position (slightly) with each item, he'll have to take a slightly new action each time, and over time, with lots of opportunities, he'll make the discovery that he's got to reference dynamically (with attention shifting/gaze shifting).

Once you get some practice with using yourself differently in a routine activity, you'll begin to see more opportunities to offer him throughout your day. And gently, in a developmentally appropriate way, you'll begin to hand him responsibility for his own attention shifting.

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