A child’s reaction and their behaviour is affected by the way they perceive their environment, and this can impact on their concentration and attention.
Children may over react or under react to certain sensory inputs in their environments and this is often seen as inappropriate behaviour, and characterizes sensory processing disorders. Their response is also largely dependent on the state of their autonomic nervous system at that time. The autonomic nervous system is the division of the nervous system responsible for survival and protection. Thus if the child is under a state of stress or perceived stress, their reaction to sensory stimuli will be heightened. This means that they will be more sensitive to light touch, high pitched noises, smells, etc. In other words, the sensory input that offers information of value to the brain for survival. If the child is in ‘survival’ mode, they are in the ‘fight, flight, fright’ mode. Once in ‘survival’ mode, these children would have difficulties with sleeping or feeding such as poor appetite and poor digestion. These children often look for high sugar foods and carbohydrate foods. Eating these foods will in turn negatively impact attention and concentration.
One way to help impact on this sensory processing is to provide well balanced meals that would allow for stable blood sugar levels thus having a positive impact on attention and concentration.
An important part of sensory processing in attention and concentration is being able to filter the relevant information from the irrelevant information and to attend to the most important information. Being able to determine what to attend to is very important. This is necessary for selective attention such as listening to the teacher’s instructions against the background of classroom and outside noises.
The child’s level of attention must match the needs of the situation, if he is to react in an appropriate manner. If he is unable to do this, the child will most likely present with attention and concentration problems.
Sensory Diet for use at home:
A balanced sensory diet is specifically developed to meet the needs of the child’s nervous system.
Just as the main food groups provide us nourishment, a daily sensory diet fulfills physical and emotional needs. These include a combination of alerting, organising and calming activities.
Below, we will focus on providing alerting activities. These are ideal for the child who is quiet and shy and would rather avoid taking part in an activity. This child would be described as ‘under sensitive’ or ‘under aroused.’
- Bouncing on a hop ball or Pilate’s ball.
- Eating sour foods such as lemon are alerting. Spicy foods such as cinnamon are more alerting and bitter and hot foods are most alerting.
- Bright lights, bright colours and lively music would stimulate the nervous system.
- A firm rub on the back, arms and legs would help wake up the nervous system.
- Jumping on a trampoline or mattress.
- Rolling activities such as somersaults, or rolling down a slope.
These are good to do before homework time or before going to school to assist with waking the nervous system and helping prepare your child for the day of learning at school.
In the upcoming blogs we will look at ‘organisation’ activities and ‘calming’ activities as well as how television impacts on your child’s concentration abilities.