Do Attention Problems mean my Child has ADHD?

5 Reasons Why Your Child’s Attention Problems Might NOT be ADHD.

Meet 5  different Students with one common story.

  • Attention Challenges, Attention Focus, ADHDJeremy wiggles constantly in his chair. It keeps him from getting his work done and is very distracting to the students sitting near him.
  • Manny talks to his neighbors all the time instead of doing his work. He’s always interested in what everyone else is doing, but he can’t seem to pay attention to his own work.
  • Sara tries really hard to be “good.†She sits up tall and looks right at the teacher. But pretty soon, she’s fiddling with things on her desk or staring straight through the teacher. When it’s time to start working, Sara always has to ask, “What were we supposed to do?â€
  • Rachel never knows what she’s supposed to do for homework. She uses her planner, but what she’s written is incomplete and doesn’t make a lot of sense. If she does do her homework, she usually can’t find it when it’s time to turn it in.
  • Jessica is getting Ds and Fs in high school. She can read, write, spell, and do math but she doesn’t pay attention in class, does poorly on tests, and doesn’t get her work done.

What do these students have in common? Each of these children has trouble paying attention in class, yet  Not one of them has Attention Deficit Disorder.

Good attention and efficient learning depend upon a solid foundation of underlying learning skills
The vast majority of students who come to our learning center have some challenges with attention, but only a small minority are truly ADHD. Successful, easy learning depends upon a solid foundation of underlying learning skills. These skills include the following:

  • Developmental Learning Skills: These are basic visual and motor skills that help children develop a sense of self, internal organization, and body and attention awareness and control.
  • Processing Skills: These are skills such as attention, memory, auditory and visual processing (how we think about and understand things that we see or hear), processing speed, language comprehension, and phonemic awareness (the thinking process critical to reading that supports learning and using phonics).
  • Executive Function: This is our personal manager that guides and directs our attention and behavior. It helps us reason, problem solve, organize, and make decisions.

Poor attention in class may be a symptom, not the real problem
If a child has problems with any of the underlying learning skills, his attention system will also be stressed. While attention may become a problem in school or with homework, it may not actually be the real problem.

5 Students ~ Five Different Learning Challenges Affecting Attention
Jeremy, our wiggly, distracting student can’t sit still in his chair because of a retained primitive reflex called the Spinal Galant.

Primitive reflexes are involuntary movements that are present in infants to help with the birth process and adaptation as a newborn. If these reflexes don’t “disappear†within about the first year of life, they will continue to fire and cause neurological interference that inhibits efficient development and easy learning.

Jeremy’s retained Spinal Gallant reflex causes him to wiggle in his chair when he doesn’t mean to.When he tries hard to sit still, it takes all of his attention, so he can’t really think about what the teacher is saying or what he’s supposed to be doing on his assignments.

Manny is dyslexic. He’s very smart and very clever. He has memorized some words, but he can’t sound out new words and sometimes when he looks at the page, it seems like the words and letters are moving around. At nine-years-old, he’s already figured out that getting in trouble for “entertaining†his neighbors is better than anyone knowing he can’t read.

Sara has an auditory processing problem. She tries so hard to listen, but what she’s hearing is spotty and inconsistent, like a bad cell phone connection. She tries to fill-in the gaps, but pretty soon, it just doesn’t make sense and she can’t keep her attention on it anymore.

Rachel has poor visual memory skills. When she tries to copy down assignments, she has to look back and forth so many times between the board and her planner, that she often loses her place and misses part of the information. It takes her longer than the other students, so she often doesn’t finish because its embarrassing to have to stay after class copying the assignment.

When Rachel does her homework, she sticks it in her backpack. The problem is, she can’t hold a picture in her mind of exactly where it is, so when it’s time to turn it in the next day, she can’t remember where she put it. Well-meaning teachers and family have suggested that maybe Ritalin would help her pay better attention. They don’t realize that Rachel is paying attention, but her visual memory is not supporting her well enough to remember the information.

Jessica has weak processing and executive function skills. She’s pretty sure her parents and teacher are right when they say she’s lazy and unmotivated because she just can’t seem to pay attention and get her work done.

Weak underlying processing and executive function skills can keep a capable student from being able to pull it altogether to perform as expected. They struggle to keep up and have inconsistent homework grades and test scores.

Addressing the root cause of the poor attention symptom can eliminate the problem. 
All five of these students were able to solve their attention and learning challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that were not supporting them well enough.

Jeremy went through Core Learning Skills Training to integrate his retained reflexes and improve his body awareness and control. He no longer stands out in class.

Manny went through a specialized auditory stimulation and reading program to develop his phonemic awareness and ability to look at the words on the page without getting disoriented. He can now understand how the sounds in words work and has learned to read and spell. He’s putting his strong verbal abilities and humor to use in the school play.

Sara went through a program of Auditory Stimulation and Training to increase her auditory processing skills. She is able to listen to her teacher and her friends now without getting exhausted and missing information. She no longer feels lost and anxious and is able to be the good student she always tried to be.

Rachel received training in various visual processing, visual memory, and organization skills. She can now copy from the board and use her planner accurately most of the time. She is more organized and can remember where her homework is in her folder.

Jessica did an intensive processing skills program called PACE and before she finished the 12-week program, she had brought her grades up to As and Bs.

Don’t ignore attention problems in school
Problems paying attention in class can be a sign to parents that their child is struggling in school. This should not be ignored.

But parents and teachers should be aware that whenever an area of underlying processing or learning skills is inefficient, extra energy will be needed to perform. This stresses the person’s attention. It is important to look very carefully to determine if the attention challenges seen in class are the cause of the learning problem or the symptom.

At Therapeutic Literacy Center, we focus on enhancing and developing those processing skills that bring about the biggest impact on learning: Auditory Processing, Auditory-Visual Association, Comprehension, Processing Speed, Divided Attention, Selective Attention, Memory, Visualization, and dozens of other skill sets that many of us take for granted.  We address the cause, not merely the symptom.  Give us a call today to learn more about our programs and how we can help your child deal with Attention issues!

Assistive Listening Devices in Classrooms for Children with Dyslexia

Two reports from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Northwestern University show that Bluetooth-style listening devices in the classroom can treat dyslexia.  Sounds suspicious I know, but if nothing else, trust the source enough to read on and you’ll be suitably impressed and hopefully inspired. Their research also uncovers a biological explanation which could lead to earlier diagnosis for this language disorder. The studies were published in Journal of Neuroscience and in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (links provided below).   These important findings further support an already large body of research pointing to a neural explanation for auditory processing in children with language learning problems, including dyslexia.

Assistive Listening Devices in Classrooms for Children with Dyslexia
Dyslexia is the most prevalent learning disability among children. Contrary to widespread public teaching, it is not only an affliction of the visual system; merely causing the eyes to rearrange written words.  Dyslexia stems from problems with auditory processing, a skill necessary to accurately interpret speech. Dyslexics typically have poor “phonological awareness”.  This means they struggle assigning the right sounds to the right letters. For example, they might confuse the words “bean” and “dean” because they cannot clearly distinguish the “b” and “d” sounds. Moreover, many children with poor phonological awareness suffer distractions from background noise, making it even harder to pay attention and focus on what a teacher is saying.

In the J. Neuroscience report, the authors show that poor readers have less stable auditory nervous system function than do good readers.  In the children with inconsistency in response to sound the data point to a biological mechanism and it may contribute to their reading impairment.  The authors proposed that assistive listening devices (classroom FM systems) may enhance acoustic clarity and thus reduce the auditory processing variability so elegantly described in the J.Neuroscience paper.

In the PNAS classroom study, they assessed the impact of classroom FM system use for 1 year on auditory neurophysiology and reading skills in children with dyslexia.  The results were clear and dramatic. Children with dyslexia who used classroom assistive listening devices (FM systems) had more consistent auditory brainstem responses to speech after 1 year.  This improvement was linked to increases in reading and phonological awareness. These changes were not seen for children in the same classrooms who did not use the assistive listening devices. The thinking here is that the enhanced signal-to-noise ratio provided by the FM system improved auditory brainstem function by providing the nervous system with a clearer acoustic signal. This would be particularly true for children with dyslexia who are more adversely affected by background noise than their classmates. It is important to note that the FM systems were not used during testing. The brainstem function had undergone a lasting change by enhancing signal-to-noise ratio over the course of the school year.  (Read more on Brain Plasticity)

Aside from the obvious practical implications of these findings for the home and classroom, they have provoked many questions and lines of inquiries for the research community.  Stay tuned!  Both articles are available as free full text for a closer look at the study set up and data.

J. Hornickel et al., “Assistive listening devices drive neuroplasticity in children with dyslexia,”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 32:14156-64, 2012.

J. Hornickel, N. Kraus, “Unstable representation of sound: a biological marker of dyslexia,”Journal of Neuroscience, 33:3500–04, 2013.

What is Memory Weakness – Why can’t my child ‘Just Remember?’

What is Memory Weakness and How Can Working Memory be strengthened?

Imagine the scene of a busy classroom nearing the end of the school day.  The teacher is heard to say, “Students, it’s almost time to go home. Please write down your homework assignments, put your books away, and line up at the door.”

What is Memory Weakness and How Can Working Memory be strengthened? - Therapeutic Literacy CenterSounds simple…straight forward –  there is no doubt what students are supposed to do.  So why is Charlie already lined up at the door when his books are all over his desk? And where are the materials he needs to take home to do his homework?

You see, all Charlie remembers is to “line up at the door.”    But how can this be?

In our work with learning disabilities, we are finding that there is a very strong connection between learning challenges and short-term memory skills. Adults and children with learning disabilities often have difficulty recalling information that they have seen, or heard, or both.

Parents and Teachers unaware of the complexities of this challenge struggles may frequently ask themselves the question: Why Can’t They Just Remember?  Fortunately, we are developing a good understanding of what is actually happening in the brain when we take in information, process and store it, and attempt to retrieve it for immediate or later use.  And we are learning that with the right, targeted therapies, we are able to remediate the disability in those affected.

While there are three primary “modalities” or “channels” through which we learn, most school learning takes place through two of them:

  • Auditory – what is heard
  • Visual – what is seen

(Understand, this involves not only how well people see or hear, but also how they process information that comes through those channels.)

In the classroom, teachers usually present information by telling and/or showing something, and the students need to respond in some way to show that they learned what is being taught.

The short term memory process involves two parts:

  1. Taking-in information quickly and accurately enough to be able to think about it and hold on to it and
  2. Being able to respond to it.

Breakdowns in the process can occur in either part: the taking-in stage or the response stage.

Because student learning has traditionally been measured based on the kinds of responses they make, the focus in learning and learning problems has been on the response part of the process.

For many students, however, it is the receptive piece, or the taking-in stage, that is not working efficiently.

The ear and the eye are critical to efficient school learning. If either the visual or auditory channel is not working efficiently, the child’s ability to take-in, or receive, information will be hindered. These individuals will have to work very hard to gain information and may not always be successful.

Typically, a person with Auditory Memory Problems has difficulty following orally given directions. They tend to get information out of sequence, or get only part of the information given.

For example, if the teachers says to “Turn to page thirty-five and do row four,” Jennie, who has weak auditory memory, may do row five on page thirty-four. Ben, who also has memory weaknesses, may turn to page thirty-five, but not know what row or problems to do.

In some classrooms, the rule is that you “listen the first time and you’ll get it; and no talking to your neighbor.” Perfectly reasonable for most students. Unfortunately, in a situation like this, Ben is stuck. He won’t have a chance of keeping up with the class.

Most people speak in phrases of about seven words (Primary teachers often speak in shorter phrases to match the developmental needs of their young students).

An individual with auditory memory weaknesses may be able to take-in and think about only three or four words at a time. As they listen, they hear three or four words, instantaneously (and subconsciously) stop listening so that they can process the information, then begin listening again.

As a result, the listener is losing a word or two from every phrase. The information no longer makes sense and becomes confusing, boring, and hard to pay attention to.

Students with Visual Memory Weaknesses may have great difficulty copying from the board.

Ted, who is in junior high school, is trying to be organized and use an assignment sheet. Unfortunately, he can’t get the assignments copied down fast enough to be finished when the bell rings and get on to his next class. What he does get written down, doesn’t make very much sense when he goes back to read it at then end of the day.

When Ted copies from the board, he has to copy one letter at a time. If it is really quiet in the room, he might be able to copy up to three symbols (letters) at a time. Other students in the class can copy the whole sentence or maybe the whole assignment at one time. It takes Ted much longer to copy than other students, and he frequently loses his place and copies the wrong letters.

And, since he is not taking-in and remembering the total sequence of letters and words, he will not be able to recognize when he has made a mistake.

Adults with visual memory weaknesses often experience the frustration of making numerous mistakes if their jobs require them to record numbers or codes of some kind. They often make mistakes in copying because they shift or leave out symbols (letters or numbers). They frequently do not recognize their errors and find that under time pressure, the symptoms usually get worse.

Current research clearly indicates that there is a strong connection between short term memory and learning.  This is an important awareness for teachers and parents to have since there are most likely some children in every classroom who have some inefficiencies in either the auditory or visual memory channels .

Solution – Part I
Ways To Make Information Easier To Take-In

As much as possible, lessons should be taught and instructions should be given in a multimodality way. When students are learning by seeing, hearing and doing, those students who are weak in one modality will have a chance of picking up the information in their stronger modality.

Students who are missing some of the information that is being presented orally because they cannot take-in and process the information fast enough, will be able to focus, comprehend, and remember better if the oral information is connected to something that they are seeing and/or doing. For example, when learning new vocabulary words, have the students act out the meaning of words. Make detailed mental pictures of the word meanings and describe the images. Read and write the words in sentences.

Be aware of those students that are struggling to copy from the board or a book. The need to be allowed more time to copy math problems or assignments and may need to have them checked for accuracy before proceeding to do the work. Be aware of the purpose for the task and provide the problems on a paper that these students can write on when appropriate. For students who simply cannot write down assignments quickly or accurately enough, provide them with an already completed list of assignments.

Work with students on organizational skills. Organization and memory seem to be strongly related.

  • Teach students how to use an assignment sheet (both for recording assignments and checking them off when they are completed).
  • Give assignments orally as well as in written form
  • Help students develop routines for collecting the materials they will need for homework, where to put completed homework, and getting assignments turned in.
  • Make sure that organizational skills are monitored until they become a habit.

Solution – Part II
“Stretching the Memory” Strategies

Visualization is a critical factor in both visual memory and comprehension. Teachers and parents can help students increase their visual memory by incorporating visualization into teaching and homework. Individuals need to learn how to visualize symbols (such as numbers for math problems) and pictures (for understanding and remembering stories, history, concepts, etc.).

To stretch the memory for copying, reading sight words, and spelling, put the “stimulus” (what they are copying from) above the students’ eye level so they have to look up at it.

  • Have the student look at the stimulus and “make a picture of it in their mind.”
  • Remove the stimulus and have the students “see” the image in the air.
  • Trace it with two fingers and say what they see.
  • Point to the letters or numbers (in the air) and say them.
  • Play with the image. Make the difficult parts bigger or brighter. Separate the image and see part of it on one wall and part of it on another. Put the image back together and say it; or reduce it in size and have the students picture it on their paper.
  • Trace the image.

If the student can only retain three digits of information (for example three letters or numbers), begin this process with just three symbols. When he can easily manipulate the visual image for three digits, try having him see, remember, and respond to the same information with distractions. Continue to increase the amount of information the student can retain.

An efficient strategy for remembering things that are heard is to use your inner language to hear it again, visualize it, and repeat, write or do it . For example, when someone gives you directions to go somewhere, you may find that you repeat the directions to yourself, picture the streets and the right and left turns, and then say the directions aloud, write them down, or follow them. These steps can be applied to almost any task supported by the auditory memory.

  • Parents can have their children repeat instructions to themselves and picture what they are going to do before they start following the directions.
  • If the child forgets what he is supposed to do, have him try to hear the instructions in his head again or look up to remember the pictures he made (remember holding the “stimulus” above eye level?).
  • “Play” with the auditory image (what the child is hearing in his mind). If he always mixes the order of the second and third direction, have him “hear” the second direction very loudly or in a sing-song voice when he repeats the directions in his mind.
  • If the child can follow two directions but forgets or gets distracted before he gets to the third, have him imagine a drum roll coming just before the third command as he repeats the instructions to himself.

Individuals with auditory or visual memory weaknesses may find it difficult to visualize or use their inner language (hear something in their mind). Development of these two critical factors in memory takes time and patience, but can be practiced as a part of almost any task.  Have fun with this!  See how many ways it can be applied and how it will enhance learning! For more information about memory assessment and development, try reading You Don’t Have to be Dyslexic by Dr. Joan Smith.

Is Your Child Masking Their Dyslexia?

Halloween masks can be great fun, but is your child wearing a “mask” all year long?

Halloween masks can be great fun

Secretly Dyslexic

Mike was funny and gregarious. He showed his smarts in class discussions, but come time to sit down and work, he would play “class clown” and entertain his neighbors instead.

Unfinished schoolwork was sent home, and added to Mike’s pile of homework. To get through the load, his mom sat with him and sped up the process, inadvertently becoming his ‘reader’. Homework was turned in correct and led Mike’s teacher to think the problem was a lack of motivation and attention.

Mike was actually quite seriously dyslexic.

Raquel’s doctor thought ADHD was the reason that as a third grader, she was still reading at first grade level. Unfortunately, medication couldn’t solve the reading problem, because Raquel was dyslexic. She couldn’t pay attention when the class was reading, spelling, or writing. She not only had difficulty processing the sound in words (phonics made no sense to her), but when she looked at a page, she felt disoriented and “seasick”, as the words seemed to swim around on the page.

Alex was a senior in high school in Advanced Placement classes. He masked his struggles with English by doing math homework for girls, in exchange for their writing his papers. He was later diagnosed with mild dyslexia.



Dyslexic students are often misunderstood. At school, they may be perceived as bright, verbal students who don’t always put in their best effort on assignments. Some are so animated and charming, that only their parents know how much they are struggling, and how much effort and time it takes for them to read and write.

Sometimes a student’s reading problem can be hard to identify because other skills are so strong. For Jordan, letters and words may be hard to look at, and sounds might not make sense, but he uses his powers of deduction from pictures, his own knowledge, and what he’s memorized from group readings or lectures to figure out what the page might say, and answer the questions.

This is a taxing process, and oftentimes his mind will drift away. (After all, what he can create in his mind is far more entertaining than a jumble of words and letters that don’t really make sense.) Hence, Jordan, like so many others, is wrongly pegged as ADD.

Common Characteristics of Dyslexia

It is hard to pay attention when confused or when information doesn’t make sense, as is so often the case for dyslexic students. However, attention challenges experienced by dyslexic learners, which are so evident in relation to schoolwork and homework, are not generally pervasive, as in the case with true ADD/ADHD.

While every dyslexic student is different, common characteristics include:

  • Good intelligence
  • Good comprehension
  • Strong ability to visualize pictures/real things (versus letters and words)
  • Creative thinker
  • Weak ability to retain an accurate image of words (sight words for reading and spelling)
  • Weak phonemic awareness (ability to think about the sounds in words)
  • Extremely poor decoding skills (sounding out words)
  • Visual disorientation when looking at a page (i.e. letters look 3D, wiggle, pulsate, or move around on the page)
  • Family history of dyslexia
  • Strong talents in other areas such as math, arts, mechanical, or athletic abilities

Don’t be Fooled – Like everyone else, these kids are survivors. At a conscious, or sub-conscious level, we do what we have to do to cope with the cards we’re dealt. And smart kids, coping with dyslexia and other learning challenges, can fool the important people in their lives. Here’s what these students might say…

I can fool you into thinking:

  • I don’t qualify for special services/help at school
  • I’m lazy
  • I just need to try harder
  • I’m not really that smart
  • School’s not my thing
  • I don’t care
  • I’m a bad kid
  • I have ADHD
  • I’m just a class clown
  • I’m just shy

 The truth is:

  • I’m working harder than all my friends to do the same work, but it takes me twice as long, and it’s only half as good.
  • I’m already trying so hard, I think I’ll burst if one more person tells me to try harder
  • I’m smarter than a lot of the kids in my class, but for some reason, some parts of school aren’t working for me
  • School’s NOT my thing – but not for the reason you think. I’d like it if I could be successful and my efforts paid off.
  • I do care! I hate struggling, but if I act like I don’t care, maybe people will notice my attitude more than my F’s.
  • I’d rather be known as the bad kid than the dumb one.
  • I can pay attention to things I understand, but when I just don’t get it, my mind drifts away.
  • If I can make people laugh, they forget how “lame” I am with schoolwork.
  • If I’m super quiet and ‘shy’, maybe no one will know that I’m missing half ofwhat your saying and feeling really lost.

There’s No Need to Hide…or Seek.  TLC offers a Solution!

It is commonly believed that Dyslexia cannot be corrected – that you just have to cope with it. This is simply not true. While there is no overnight solution, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected.

At our center, we identify and develop the weak underlying learning / processing skills that provide the critical foundation for learning but are not generally taught. ADD meds will not solve dyslexic challenges, but retraining the auditory and visual systems to accurately process sounds and letters on a page WILL get the brain ready to learn, retain, and comfortably use reading & spelling skills.


To learn more, call 858) 481-2200 to schedule a FREE consultation with Executive Director Maria Bagby.








Recognizing and Overcoming Attention Focus Challenges

How can I possibly know whether my kid is just goofing off or he’s having real difficulty paying attention?  In a Reader’s Digest article, the author asks his son to put on his shoes. The father’s request marked the beginning of a woeful tale of a dad’s rise to total frustration and a Having trouble staying on task, completing assignments may be symptoms of attention challengesyoung boy’s complete obliviousness as the words  “…entered his left ear, and before they could penetrate his brain, [were] ejected out his right ear at nearly the speed of light.”  When the father finally yells his request, his son Robert has no idea why his dad could possibly be so irritated.

Sound familiar to you?

What so many people want to know about Robert is this:  Does this mean that Robert has Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.)?

Probably not. But then,attention focus problems occur in everyone from time to time, not just to those with A.D.D. Let’s face it, we all have problems focusing our attention at times. Attention focus becomes a problem only when it is out of our control…when it controls us and interferes with our learning and daily lives.

Recognizing and Overcoming Attention Focus Challenges:  Three Categories of Common Attention Disruption

Attention focus problems have many “faces.” There are different types and they may look different on different people. The good news is that most can be overcome with proper training. Below are three broad categories of common attention focus disruption and some of the issues, or symptoms,that individuals may be dealing with daily.

Excessive Activity (constant movement, either physical or mental)
For these individuals, the body is in constant motion and out of control. They have too much unchanneled physical energy. They always seem to be playing with something, can’t seem to stay in their seat, and in fact, often prefer to work standing up.  Mentally their attention may be jumping from one thought to another too fast to fully absorb anything.

Some have an inability to filter out unimportant things and focus on what is relevant. They pay equal attention to everything. The ability to focus on the important stimuli and let everything else be in the background is called figure-ground. A child with an auditory figure ground problem may find the hum of the air conditioner, feet shuffling, pencils writing, a classmate whispering, and a page turning to be equally as loud and demanding of his or her attention as the teacher’s voice.

A person with a visual figure ground problem may live in a world that looks like a page from Where’s Waldo . They see everything but nothing stands out as important. On a written page, the white spaces may stand out as prominently as the letters, making it almost impossible to focus on anything.

Distractibility (external and internal)
Distractibility is different from figure-ground in that the individuals can focus their attention on something. But they tend to shift their focus easily and remain there instead of shifting back to what they were doing. Distractions may be external or internal. Individuals with creative, active minds can often wander way off target and become absorbed in their own visualizations, triggered perhaps by a single word that they heard or read.

Many dyslexic and A.D.D. individuals are highly intelligent and highly visual. They often tend to be creative, “right-brained” thinkers, who think in concepts and pictures. They may have the ability to see in dimension, to mentally “see” objects from all sides. This perceptual talent lends itself to drawing, building, putting things together, and recalling concrete or visual information.

Disorientation is the loss of focus triggered by confusion – for these individuals is almost always associated with efforts to work with symbols or to listen . When the person experiences confusion about symbols (such as letters or numbers), his brain really wants to understand. If this person, who can easily “see” in dimension, goes to his most comfortable thinking style, he can perceive the letter or word from different angles, recoding different images of the word or letter in his mind and making it hard to retrieve.

Disorientation can be triggered by overwhelm, particularly with language. If there seems to be too much information, the individual may become disoriented and lose track of what is going on around him.

Another common characteristic of disorientation is that it often throws-off a person’s internal time clock. He or she may start working or talking extremely fast or extremely slowly. A student who loses his focus may find at the end of a 20 minute math period that he has written only one problem. He truly doesn’t know where the time has gone and may be angry at the teacher for not giving the class time to do the assignment.

Strategies For Teaching Attention Focus 
Children and adults with these types of attention focus problems are not in control of their attention and generally do not recognize when they have gotten distracted or disoriented. Many things can be done to help a child to be more successful at paying attention at any one moment. The atmosphere of the Learning Center, when the students work one-to-one in a quiet place is set-up for it. The clinicians can sit close to the students and constantly refocus them. Unfortunately, the “real world” isn’t like that.

To be independent learners, children must also be taught how to attend. The Therapeutic Literacy Center is built on the premise that children and adults with at least average intellectual potential can and should become proficient readers. We believe that about attention focus also. Children and adults CAN learn to be in control of their own attention.

There are several different techniques that can be employed to facilitate attention control, including Edu-K, Orientation Counseling, and floor balance and balance beam work. While most of these strategies require training to use them properly, there are some basic steps critical to any attention focus training.

First, the individual must learn to recognize what it feels like to be “on” (focused) and “off” (unfocused).

Have the student walk forward and backward on a line on the floor, keeping his eyes focused on a spot on the wall. Or have the student toss and catch a beanbag, keeping his eyes on the beanbag as it goes up and down.

Guide the student verbally using a slow, soft voice. The key is for the student to be able to wok on the line or toss the beanbag with slow, controlled movements. As the student gains control of his balance and movements, he is also increasing his attention control. Through questioning, help him to think about what it feels like to be focused. Help him “remember” this feeling so that he can transfer it to homework, schoolwork, etc.

Second, guide the student in recognizing what happens, what he does, when is “off” or loses his focus (eyes defocus, turns pale, looks around, starts talking or writing at warp speed, stumbles over words, slows/slurs his speech, etc.).

Third, the student and teacher or parent must recognize what triggered the confusion or loss of focus. The confusion must be eliminated or the confusing pieces (such as letters or words) must be mastered.

And finally, the student must have a strategy for getting back “on.” This can often be done by applying the same techniques that were used in step one.

Permission to Pay Attention
Individuals sometimes need to be taught to give themselves permission to refocus their attention. For example, one of our students became very distracted by the sound of a metronome in an adjacent room. His session was totally disrupted because he could not stop listening to it.

However, after exploring what the noise was, and practicing giving himself permission to stop listening to it, he was able, on several later occasions to say, “Oh, I know what the clicking noise is. I don’t have to listen to that anymore” and return to his task. Students can learn to give themselves permission to quit paying attention to classroom distractions such as the pencil sharpener, in this way also.

Programs and References for Attention Focus Techniques 
Davis. R. Davis Orientation Master Training (Inservice Training services) Burlingame, CA: Reading Research Council. (1799 Old Bayshore Highway, Suite 248, Burlingame, CA 94010 Dennison, P. and Dennison, G. (1989) Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition. (Manual to explain, instruct, and facilitate movement activities for whole brain learning (Glendale, CA: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc. (P.O. Box 5002, Glendale, CA 91201) Smith, J.M. (1991) You Don’t Have To Be Dyslexic. Sacramento, CA: Learning Time Publications (4436 Engle Road, Sacramento, CA)