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Importance of early communication development

“ My child is struggling to attend in lessons, what can I do? ”

As a speech and language therapist, I have at many times been asked this question by parents and educators alike. At first, it is important for us to understand the levels of attention development in children and what level your child is currently at. Each level has a different impact on language as early communication development. Also, each of them requires specific strategies to aide communication.

Attention Levels in typically developing children and strategies

(based on Cooper, Moodley, Reynell 1997, Helping language development)

– Stage 1 – Fleeting attention (0 -1 year)

Extreme distractibility. The child’s attention is held momentarily by whatever the dominant stimulus in the environment is and it is easily distracted by any new stimulus.

At this level, the child cannot attend to what you say and you must discover the child’s motivators at early communication development level.  So it can be incorporated into a preferred activity.

–  Stage 2 – Rigid attention (1 -2 years)

Attention is inflexible. The child can concentrate for some time on a concrete task of their own choosing. The child has difficulty tolerating intervention or attempts to modify the task by an adult.

At this level, if your speech interferes with the activity the child is doing, then your child needs to ignore you in order to concentrate. Therefore, you should give the child time to complete the choice of activity and gain the child’s attention by calling their name and/or touching gently.

– Stage 3 – Single channeled attention (2 -3 years)

Some flexibility is developing in that they can tolerate a well-timed intervention or interruption more readily. The child can only cope with doing one thing at a time.

At this level, the child can listen if he stops the activity and looks at the adult. However, he/she needs adult help with this. You should call the child’s name before speaking and encourage the child’s preferred activity.

– Stage 4 – Attention focus under voluntary control (3 -4 years)

The child is beginning to control their own attention. Attention is still single channeled but it can be stopped /restarted under the child’s control without adult support.

At this level, the child looks automatically when an adult speaks. He/she is able to shift attention from the task to the speaker. You should tell the child it’s time to listen and that they can carry on working whilst listening to you. For example, practice this skill using a coloring activity.

– Stage 5 -Two channeled attention (4 – 5 years)

At this stage, the child can do 2 things at once. The child’s attention span may be short but they can be taught in a group. The child is ready for whole-class teaching.

At this level, the child no longer needs to look up when an adult speaks. He/she can listen at the same time as working or playing. You should praise the child for good listening.

– Stage 6 – Integrated attention (5 -6 years)

Well established and sustained attention. The child can easily listen to information whilst doing something else at the same time even in a distracting environment. Also, the child can cope in a group learning situation for long periods of time. At this level, the child listens and attends well in class.

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