5 Tips to Increase Sustained Attention

Attention to task is a pre-linguistic skill that a child acquires before using functional, verbal language. A child must be able to use sustained attention during play in order to process incoming language. These kids are often seen jumping from toy to toy and not playing with a toy functionally. Read below ways that I help increase sustained attention in a child exhibiting difficulty with this skill.

5 Tips to Increase Sustained Attention:

1. Reduce distractions:

  • Use a less is more mentality when it comes to toys. A child is more likely to go from toy to toy if there are toys all around him. Choose a few, appropriate toys at a time for the child to play with. This will increase the likelihood of playing with a toy for a longer period of time and increase the likelihood of functional play. The child will also like the rotation of toys because he/she is getting something new and exciting.
2. Visual place marker:
  • Use a concrete visual (I like these) to show where a child should sit during play. After the routine of using the placemaker is set and they understand your expectations, sustained attention will increase because the child will not get up and choose a different toy as frequently.
3. Have a set beginning, middle, and end to play routines:
  • Set expectations of your therapy routine during play so that the child will understand and know what you expect of them. Visuals and timers can aid in this for extra support. Always end activities by cleaning up and putting away before getting a new toy/activity out. You could verbalize/sign "all done" or sing the clean up song.
4. Use activities with multiple pieces:
  • By completing play tasks with multiple pieces, we are assuring that there will be multiple turns during the activity in order to complete the activity. This is a natural way to extend play over a period of time. My favorite toys for this are puzzles, nesting cups, stacking blocks, and Mr. Potato Head.  Make that you are always the keeper of all the pieces (and that's for any skill you're working on!).
5. Use the one more rule:
  • When a child has reached their attention limit of a play activity, is trying to exit the activity, or is protesting, use the one more rule. The one more rule is stating that you will complete one more turn before transitioning to a new activity. If needed, use hand over hand assistance to get the one extra turn.


Using these 5 skills will set you up for success in your sessions by giving clear expectations and setting a routine for play. Let me know in the comments what else you would add to this list. 


Happy Speeching!


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