Attention Autism Therapy

Sonja is kneeling on a multicoloured carpet holding a bucket in one hand and a toy in the other

Attention Autism” is an Early Years Intervention designed by Gina Davies, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist. Gina created this amazing therapy approach based on her many years of working with children on the autism spectrum. It aims to develop natural and spontaneous communication through the use of highly motivating activities. These activities offer your child an IRRESISTABLE INVITATION to engage and attend to.

I love using this approach and have trained in all of the stages including the Curiosity Stage which is for another blog. I use it frequently with all children who have trouble attending, listening, sitting or waiting regardless of whether they are neuro-diverse or neuro-typical, this activity and method is so great for all children!!

Why is it important for our children to attend and listen?

It is commonly assumed that, as our child has passed their hearing tests he/she will be able to listen and respond to being called, being questioned or asked to do something. However, all children I see in my practice have reduced joint attention skills, which means that whilst their hearing is often good, even brilliant to the point that they can often hear a faint noise somewhere outside the house like a distant train rushing by – but strangely they can’t seem to hear their name being called. Parents often ask me why this is the case, why can my child not turn round when I call him?

The reason lies in the difference between hearing and listening. Listening is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. As a child develops, their hearing tunes into (listening) the sounds and noises they hear on a daily basis. This is how a child develops understanding of the speech sounds they hear every day (which then form the basis of their native language); they also get to know “their door bell, dog barking next door, daddy coming up the stairs” and so on. They tune into those common every day sounds and noises and gradually start to copy speech sounds to form words. So listening is tuning our ears to the sounds that surround us. In contrast, many of us have to work in large office spaces or noisy environment, perhaps even a café, etc, where we are able to tune out those environmental noises and sounds that surround us, for otherwise we will not get that report/piece of work done in time! Our focus means that we become single-minded and single-channelled concentrating on our work and so we do not hear people chat and clutter all around us.

Tuning in and out is a skill that we learn and some of us are better than it that others, it comes largely with practice but also with motivation – I go back to the report that needs doing by end of the day – my motivation is strong and I can now focus and blend out all around me so that I get the work done. Other times when I am not so motivated I might doodle and tune into what is being said at the table next to me, because my focus is not that strongly dedicated to my work.

Many children who are delayed in their development and especially children on the neuro-diverse continuum have difficulty with tuning in. By contrast, they are very good at being single-minded, single focused on what it is they are wanting/needing to do at any one point. And so they cannot listen to sounds, speech, noises around them very easily at all. They are fully absorbed in their activity and are not able to look and listen to mum/dad calling their name. Once we understand this we can start helping our children to practise tuning in a bit more bit by bit and day by day.

Enter the Attention Autism approach!

There are 4 stages to this method:

Stage 1: The Bucket to Focus Attention

The first stage involves filling a bucket with visually engaging toys that aim to help children learn how to focus their attention. Three toys will be presented to the child/group one at a time and the therapist will make simple comments about each toy to help introduce them to the children and expand their vocabulary.

Important to know: the Attention Autism approach does not require the child to look at the adult, or to sustain eye-gaze on the objects. Instead engagement may be indicated by non-verbal signals such as seeming alert and interested, and looking frequently at the object.

Stage 2: The Attention Builder

At this stage the child/group is introduced to visually stimulating activities. This stage aims to build and sustain attention for a longer period of time. Activities may include ideas such as:

  • Flour castles which can be built like sandcastles, using flour, a bowl and moulds
  • Erupting volcano activity
  • Wriggly worms foam – pile shaving foam onto an upside down plastic flower pot with the holes taped over; then slowly press down another plastic flower pot over the shaving foam and the foam will come through the top holes looking like wriggly worms, especially if you have dropped a bit of food colouring on top of the foam

Important: children are not required to make eye contact or sit still during these activities. The focus is on engagement, in whatever way the child demonstrates this.

Stage 3: The Interactive Game – Turn-Taking and Shifting Attention

The therapist demonstrates a simple engaging activity and invites children up to have a turn. This may be the same activity from stage 2 or something new. The aim is for children to learn to shift their attention from the group/sitting experience to doing something and then going back to sitting again.

Stage 4: Individual Activity

In the final stage of Attention Autism, the adult models an activity, and then each child is given the same equipment to use themselves. They do not have to copy exactly what the adult modelled. The aim is for the child watching to have a go independently with confidence, and then to take their materials back to the leading adult at the end. The activity should be engaging and enjoyable for the children. The Attention Autism approach aims to foster an interest in learning new things and to inspire communication in whatever form works for the child.

Ideally this should be practised 4-5 times a week aside from the therapy session. But I have seen it work with just 2-3 practice repeats per week. It can be tough in the beginning until your child gets used to the “no touch just look” rule but with a little bit of practice usually children do sit well for the first part of the Bucket activity within about 10 sessions and after that you are on a roll!

Do get in touch with me if you would like to find out more about this approach! Here is a great link to Gina Davis’s Autism Centre facebook site for more inspiration:

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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