Why Attend to a Child’s Inattention?

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Inattention has been defined as the ‘lack of attention’ or the ‘failure to carefully think about, listen to, or watch someone or something’ {Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary}.  In other words, it refers to the inability of an individual to attend to an item or object, person, sound etc. for a required duration of time.

In daily life, we are required to attend to several stimuli (in terms of – sounds, visuals, textures etc.) throughout the day. It is natural for everyone to deal with ‘inattention’ at some point in time. However, inattention becomes of concern, when it affects daily routine, work, academics or play in a larger way. For instance, losing attention during a movie or long conversation at the end of a long day is natural (due to fatigue). However, to constantly lose attention during a conversation during any time of day – can be of concern.

Attention span in children is a developmental skill. Therefore, a gain in the skill is seen with age, till it becomes adult-like. It is natural for younger children to lose interest and attention rather rapidly, when compared to adults with typical attention. And therefore it is prudent to understand typical development of the skill – before it is seen as an ‘issue’ or ‘deviance’.

It is important to be able to catch red flags for lack of attention early on in younger children. A significant dip in attention can be a cause of concern and may lead to poorer development and academic skills (when compared to peers).

Few red flags for inattention in children are:

  1. The child is easily and /or frequently distracted from one activity or person to another.
  2. S/he does seem not to listen when spoken to directly. They may be termed as being ‘disinterested’.
  3. The child needs repetitions of several instructions directed to him /her.
  4. S/he needs parts of longer instructions, to be repeated several times, till completion of the task.
  5. At times, the child may appear as though s/he is forgetful.
  6. At times, since a longer command is not listened to completely; they will guess the part they missed listening to. Therefore s/he will often make mistakes in following commands / instructions.
  7. S/he will not pay attention to detail.
  8. The child will have difficulty in maintaining attention for guided activities or games.
  9. S/he will avoid and dislike activities that require longer periods of concentration.
  10. The child will often lose items (in school, for instance).

* If any of the red flags are seen often or persistently, it is essential to seek an assessment.

The causes of inattention can be many and varied. It can be an outcome of tiredness or fatigue. Or, due to physical (medical) conditions, a symptom of a disorder (such as ADHD or Autism). It becomes important to understand the underlying cause of the inattention, before treatment is undertaken. Broadly, the line of treatment for a child with inattention must include (a) a consultation with a medical professional (to rule out or take care of any underlying medical condition or disorder), and (b) a consultation with a therapist (such as a special educator, speech language pathologist), who can provide relevant activities to improve the child’s attention span.

Seeking the correct path is crucial. One must pay attention to the subtle signs of inattention in young children, to ensure they can learn better and perform well – developmentally or academically!

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This article was written by Tanushree Saxena Chandhok, our speech therapy expert

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