WHAT’S SO IMPORTANT ABOUT PAYING ATTENTION?
When you are trying to teach someone something it is impossible to do so unless you have their full attention. It is also difficult to assess what they know if you don’t have their full attention when you ask them a question or deliver an instruction. Any failure may be as a result of not hearing the request of instruction properly as opposed to their inability.
EYE CONTACT AND PERIPHERAL VISION
People with Autism often have poor eye contact, or unusual eye contact. Different reasons have been put forward as to why this is the case. It has been found that supplementing with vitamin A and fatty acids has improved eye contact. High functioning adults with autism have said that it takes a lot of concentration when they have to look at people’s faces and that they find it hard to think and have a conversation while looking in someone’s face. Wendy Lawson once said ‘Do you want eye contact, or do you want conversation? I can’t do both at the same time.’ It has been found that many people with autism find it better to look at things using their peripheral vision (out the corner of their eye without looking directly at something), so just because a person with Autism is not looking directly at you it does not mean they are not watching and listening.
DYNAMICS AND HABITUATION
At any given moment in time our brains receive so many different signals from the stimuli our environment, millions of sights, sounds, smells, sensations and sometimes tastes. In order that we can focus on the important stimuli for our survival, for example the red traffic light or the instructions being given by our boss, our brain has to block out many of those signals. This is called habituation. If our brains are able to regulate properly it will discern
GETTING THEIR ATTENTION
Use novel toys or items that fall within their interest area of interest
Use funny faces or noises or unexpected movements
Change the volume and tone of your voice
Be dynamic and fun. GABA is a hormone that is released when we are motivated and one of the things it does is puts us into an alert brain state, focusing our attention.
TRAINING FOR CONSISTENT ATTENTION
Reinforce attention every time it occurs. Initially use big reinforcers paired with praise and later use just intermittent praise (unpredictable praise now and again) for any attention. To increase attention, unexpectedly call them or request their attention throughout the day and then reward them immediately without requiring them to do anything else. For example ‘Johnny, look at this!’ and then ‘Good looking’ and reward him. Slowly increase the amount of attention expected before you reinforce them. If you want more of any behaviour you have to use reinforcers that have a high value for that person, there must be MANY opportunities for them to practice and get reinforced, and the reinforcement must be immediate and contingent.