Attention, Attention Please...

Published by KidLinks on: Sep 15, 2017 — Music Therapy

Is attention really all that important? Attention is super important. In my practice, I find that if a child has difficulty with attention, progress with other skills is slow coming until we address and improve his/her attention.

I mostly work with children ages 2-5. It’s important for me to understand the capacity for attention for different ages. I cannot expect a 2 year old to sit for 15 minutes on one task. Even 5 minutes is probably pushing it. It is also important for me to recognize the difference between measuring attention span across a 30 minute session and measuring attention to one specific task. A child might not have any difficulty attending to a favorite task of 3+ minutes, but if that is the only task they can attend to in an entire session, we’ve got some work to do on attention span across time. I also like to look at types of attention – sustained, selective, alternating and divided. Especially with my clients who are a little older, I can dig into which of these four are strengths and which need more work.

Using music and songs is a great way to work on attention as commonly, children are highly attracted to all things music and will work to focus on a musical task. If I can find an especially favorite instrument for a child, we can work hard on attention to task, attention across a session and the four types of attention while they are having so much fun, they often don’t realize how hard their brains are working to grow in this area.

With little ones who are just starting music therapy, I alternate frequently between action and cognitive tasks as well as instrumental and singing activities during a session to keep them interested and engaged. I want to “condition” them to keep their focus on me and what I have to offer and I want them to have a high positive regard for what we do in music therapy so they are enthusiastic about coming back for more. As time goes on, I slowly extend activities and alternate less frequently between active and cognitive tasks, all while reading their body language and level of interest to keep them engaged.

Also, when I first start with a client, I frequently interject “non-musical” activities that are highly attractive such as bubbles, playing with a ball, or trains and cars, or dancing with colorful scarves. I can still use movement and musical cueing with these “props” but the main goal is for them to feel pure joy. These props grab their attention and give them warm fuzzies about music therapy. Later on down the line, when they are working hard on skills that might be really tough for them, I can pull out the bubbles or ball and it helps them to relax and recharge. And it keeps their attention.

If children are not attending to a model (which is me when in music therapy and mom/dad/sibling when at home) for speech, motor, and social development, improvement will be difficult. But if they can learn to watch and study and imitate and stick with a task, improvement is much more likely to follow.

By Cora Lansdowne, MME, MT-BC


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