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Autism and Attention Span: Improving Focus and Concentration

Joint attention, which is facilitated through eye contact, is vital for the development of social, cognitive, and language skills in children with autism. It involves the ability to share attention with others and focus on the same object or activity, such as during potty training.

However, children with autism may find it challenging to engage in activities requiring shared attention, as they may struggle to shift their attention to tasks that don’t naturally interest them.

To promote joint attention, parents and caregivers need to create opportunities for shared activities. This can be done by finding activities or objects that capture the child’s interest and engaging with them together. 

For example, if the child shows an interest in trains, parents can join in the play by setting up train tracks and playing alongside them.

autism and attention span

Role of Play Activities

Play is an effective tool to increase attention in children with autism. Engaging in play activities that the child enjoys can promote shared attention and enjoyment, ultimately boosting language skills. It also helps reduce stress, enhance responsiveness, and improve attention.

Parents and caregivers should focus on incorporating play activities that capture the child’s interest and keep them engaged. By observing the child’s preferences and providing toys or materials that align with their interests, parents can create an environment that encourages attention and focus. 

For example, if the child enjoys building blocks, parents can engage in block-building activities with them, encouraging joint attention and fostering concentration.

autism and attention span

Sensory Integration Strategies

When it comes to enhancing attention in individuals with autism, sensory integration strategies can play a crucial role. Children with autism may exhibit unusual responses to sensory stimuli, and addressing their sensory needs can help calm their sensory systems and improve their ability to focus and attend to tasks. 

In this section, we will explore two key sensory integration strategies which are as follows:

Calming Sensory Responses

Children with autism may find it challenging to focus on things that don’t naturally interest them, making activities requiring shared attention difficult.

To help calm sensory responses and enhance attention, you need to create a sensory-friendly environment. This can include reducing excessive noise levels, providing a comfortable and soothing space, and using calming sensory tools such as weighted blankets, fidget toys, or sensory bins. 

These tools can help regulate sensory input and create a calming effect, making it easier for individuals with autism to focus and engage in activities.

Addressing Sensory Needs

Research conducted by Haifa University’s Ayelet Ben-Sasson indicates that a significant percentage of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience difficulties with sensory processing. In fact, the study found that 70 to 96 percent of children with ASD face challenges in this area. 

These difficulties with sensory processing can impact their ability to focus on tasks and sustain attention.

To address sensory needs and promote a better attention span, it is essential to provide sensory relief. This can involve identifying and understanding the specific sensory sensitivities of the individual with autism and implementing strategies to accommodate those needs. 

For example, if a child is sensitive to loud noises, using noise-canceling headphones or creating a quiet workspace can help minimize distractions and improve attention.

It is important to note that each individual with autism may have unique sensory preferences and sensitivities. Therefore, it is crucial to observe and communicate with the individual to determine what strategies work best for them.

Creating the Right Environment

Enhancing attention and concentration in individuals with autism requires the creation of an environment that supports their specific needs. Providing an optimal workspace and utilizing physical activity allows parents and caregivers to help improve focus and attention span.

Creating a suitable workspace is crucial for individuals with autism to improve their focus. Similar to individuals with ADHD, providing a calm, quiet, and clutter-free environment can aid in enhancing attention span. 

Here are some considerations for creating one:

autism and attention span

Physical activity also plays a significant role in improving attention and focus for individuals with autism. According to the “spaced learning” theory, which suggests that breaks between mental tasks prevent the brain from being overloaded with information, engaging in physical activity can help individuals with autism release accumulated stress and enhance memory. 

Here are some ways to utilize physical activity:

  • Exercise Breaks: Incorporate short exercise breaks between tasks or learning activities. Simple exercises like stretching, jumping jacks, or dancing can help individuals with autism release energy and refocus their attention.
  • Sensory Breaks: Provide sensory breaks during the work session. This can involve activities that engage the senses, such as playing with sensory toys, using stress balls, or engaging in deep-pressure activities like rolling on a therapy ball.
  • Outdoor Time: Take advantage of outdoor spaces for physical activity. Going for a walk, playing in a park, or engaging in outdoor games can provide a change of scenery and help individuals with autism refresh their attention.

Creating an optimal workspace and incorporating physical activity lets parents and caregivers help individuals with autism improve their focus and attention span. However, it’s important to consider the specific needs and preferences of the individual to create an environment that promotes concentration and supports their overall well-being.

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