Sunday, 2 June 2013

What can we do to help Maria's attention deficit?

It's not that Maria can't spend quite substantial periods of time concentrating. She can watch a TV for an hour. She can play with her iPad for an hour easily. She can look at books for long stretches of up to half an hour. The problem is when you want her to do something that she doesn't. Trying to get her attention and concentrate on the task at hand can be difficult.

Clearly interest and motivation play a part - as with all of us - but somehow, Maria is too easily distracted and forgets or looses interest in what she was doing just a few moments earlier. This can be particularly frustrating when you're trying to get out of the house and you ask her to put on her coat or shoes. It can take ages before you finally grab her attention sufficiently for her to perform the task. It takes many requests and much patience before the task is completed. 

Speaking to Prof. Chris Oliver at the recent RTS UK event in Northampton, he suggested reducing the number of distractions before requesting Maria to do something (i.e. switch off the TV, radio, Isabella, mummy, baby John, daddy etc.) and providing higher levels of reward (e.g. Maria has had some wet episodes recently so she currently expects jelly beans when she remembers to go to the toilet on time). Well, in the world of disabilities you have to be prepared to give it a go.

By the way, Chris also mentioned that the evidence points to a problem with 'working memory' in people with RTS. To explain working memory, imagine short-term memory where you're asked to process information immediately after recalling it e.g. remembering and recalling a telephone number and then being asked to say it backwards. It's not that people with RTS have particularly poor short-term memory or long-term memory (certainly Maria doesn't) but how that information can be processed. 

Typically, when I ask Maria to put on her coat then she might start to do it, gets distracted, and subsequently forgets. With further prompting she'll ignore me until I remind her several more times; meanwhile she'll be focussed on something else. Eventually I'll remind her enough times and with enough emphasis that she finally does it, often under protest.

This tardiness may seem like stubbornness but here we have to be careful. Parents often like to take on the role of 'director', ordering around their children like a sergeant major. Certainly Joan and I do it occasionally, particularly when we're in a hurry. Maria is intelligent and gets pretty tired of being told what to do by her parents. If anyone did it to me I'd tell then to get lost! 

The other day Maria was angry because I'd misunderstood some conflict between her and Isabella. She ran downstairs in protest and when I followed her she stood pointing at the door and shouted 'go' followed by 'silly old Farmer Ham' (the phrase is from one of her storybooks in which the crows poke fun at Farmer Ham until he gets his own back by dressing up as a scarecrow). I guess Maria was telling me I was stupid and didn't understand anything. Not bad for someone with expressive delay!  

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