Before You Say, "Sit still!"... 6 New Ways to Look at Weak Attention Skills

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One of the most common problems we hear about from new families at Yellow Wood is attention issues. Whether it’s that their child has an ADHD diagnosis, is fidgety, or can’t seem to focus on something for more than a few seconds, these issues can be addressed when the underlying problem is found!


At Yellow Wood we combat attention issues in a few ways. I’ll mention I am not a medical professional, but I am certified in cognitive therapy and have worked with learning disabilities and special needs for the past 6 years!  Here are a few factors that can affect focus:


#1 Primitive Reflexes

Man, if you’ve read our blogs for a while, you are probably either really tired of hearing this term, or really curious! The reason primitive reflexes are SO important for attention skills is this: reflex integration allows you to use your WHOLE brain effectively, rather than just the lower centers of the brain. The areas of the brain responsible for attention and focus are found in higher centers of the brain that need to be used, and used well, in order for a child to be able to sit still and concentrate for a reasonable amount of time. So if your child is struggling with this, it’s very likely that he or she has an immature brain from retained reflexes.

#2 Midline

Crossing the midline easily is an absolute necessity for attention skills. If it takes your brain extra effort to cross the midline (for example, keeping up in a conversation requires you to process auditorily, produce an answer, and verbalize that answer, all while keeping up with what others are saying), or if you avoid crossing the midline, you won’t be able to maintain focus when doing tasks that require multiple parts of your brain!

#3 Processing Speed

This is a can of worms! If you are slow to process information visually or auditorily, you’ll have trouble keeping focused or keeping up. You have to be able to process quickly to keep up in lectures, conversations, maintain focus on reading, writing… and a gazillion other tasks!

#4 Working Memory

Working memory is the like the post it in your brain. You use it when keeping a tally at the grocery store of how much you’ve spent so far. When you get directions from someone, or a phone number. When you’re completing math word problems, taking notes in a lecture, learning to read… the list goes on and on. Children should be able to hold onto about 5 items in their working memory by age 12. If you look up ADHD, you’ll see poor working memory is a main symptom! We see this often with kids who can only handle 2-3 items in their working memory before they get overloaded. The amazing news is this skill can be strengthened!!

#5 Proprioceptive Sense

The proprioceptive sense gives you a sense of where your body is in relation to the world. If it is under active, you’ll see kids tapping their foot, fidgeting, touching EVERYTHING, getting in others’ space, all while not realizing there’s an issue. The reason is this: the brain is literally unable to tell where the body is! So, the child will tap their foot and the brain says, “oh, there’s my foot! Awesome!” While this is a simplified explanation, its true! Many kids are told to “sit still”, or adults assume because the child is moving or tapping that they aren’t paying attention. But the opposite may be true! Many kids with a weak proprioceptive sense NEED that movement so the brain can stop asking “where’s my foot?” and focus on what they need to be doing!

#6 Sensory Processing

Similar to the proprioceptive sense, if a child has an overactive or underactive sensory system, this can be incredibly distracting for them! Tags on clothes, bright lights, weird smells, noises in the room… all can be incredibly distracting for a child with a sensitive sensory system.

So, what does it look like when a child is “overloaded” or their brain is processing slowly? Fight or flight! If it’s a constant battle, or your child seems to always be avoiding something… think about this: it might not be entirely their fault. I know, being goofy, asking for 16 snacks, or having a meltdown are all behavioral choices. BUT, they can also be signs that a child is too stressed to cope with the situation, or that their attention skills (or other brain skills) aren’t strong enough to handle the task so their fight or flight response kicks in. It’s so very important to find the root of the issue and help build from there. When you come at a difficult moment with this view, you can start to see the behavior in a new light and help your child work through it without it becoming a power struggle.

Of course, we’d love to help you pinpoint exactly what might be causing attention issues! It's our mission at Yellow Wood to equip parents and kids with the tools they need for success. You can get started with our “jump start” evaluation process! We look at cognitive and academic skills to get a picture of what is weak and causing learning struggles!

We are SO passionate about helping families overcome learning challenges, that we are running a special for a FREE evaluation when you enroll in our Success Training tutoring! Wow! That is a $250 value! To learn more, fill out the form below!