Updated: Nov 13
If you work with children with additional needs, specifically those with ASD, you may have heard the term "Attention Autism". Attention Autism is a learning approach, developed by Gina Davies, that aims to help autistic children develop attention and communication skills. It aims to promote natural and spontaneous communication through the use of highly visual, engaging and motivating activities. Often used in schools, some of the key aims of an Attention Autism session include;
Improve joint attention
Engage in attention
Develop shared enjoyment of group activities
Increase and develop verbal and non-verbal communication
There are 4 stages to an Attention Autism session and this blog aims to provide you with insight on each stage, its purpose and some practical ideas as to what you can include in your sessions!
Stage 1 - Bucket Stage
The first stage teaches children to focus their attention, known as Engaged Attention, in an adult-led agenda. You want the children to be drawn to the bucket and what could possibly be inside. Grab a non-see-though bucket or container and fill it with toys that are stimulating; wind-up, musical, textured, pop-up etc.
You can introduce the bucket time by singing a song to engage attention. To the tune of Mullberry Bush, sing "I've got something in my bucket, I've got something in my bucket, in my bucket, I wonder what it is...". Then gradually reveal 2-4 toys, replacing the lid in between each time. You can make simple comments about each toy and demonstrate what it does to help introduce them to the children and expand their vocabulary.
Engaged Attention may look different in an autistic child compared to those who are neurotypical. The Attention Autism approach does not require autistic children to look at the adult or sustain eye contact to demonstrate attention. Instead, attention may be indicated by other signals such as seeming alter, looking at the objects and appearing interested in the activity. When the majority of the class is happy, relaxed and engaged, you can move to stage 2.
You may like: A Complete Guide to Autistic Meltdowns
Stage 2 - Attention Builder
Stage 2 aims to build on and sustain attention for up to 10 minutes by introducing highly interesting and stimulating activities. Some activity ideas include;
Flour shapes - sieving flour over paper stencils, making patterns on the surface you are using
Glow balloons - blow up balloons, place glow sticks inside, turn off the lights and have a little rave!
Rain cloud - fill a bowl or jar with water and squirt shaving foam on top. Squirt food colouring on top and take the jar around so children see the colours spread into the water.
Paint Stamping - use various objects (bubble wrap, sponge, wood etc) to stamp textures and shapes on to a surface or paper
Plant Pot Worms - Squirt shaving foam on to upside down plant pots and then squish down another pot on top, making the foam come through the holes. Add colours for even better outcomes.
At this stage, it is still adult-led. If children want to get involved, that is great as it shows engagement, but remind them that it is your turn - it is important that they understand that you are showing them things and it is their role to sit back, relax and observe.
Stage 3 - Turn-Taking and Shifting Attention
In stage 3, children will learn to shift their attention and participate in activities whilst being able to take turns. What we mean by shifting attention is that the children will be shifting their attention from learning as part of a group, to individual participation and then back to being part of a group. In order for this stage to be successful, the activity needs to be just as interesting to watch as it is to participate in! Some activity ideas include;
Umbrella - put down a shower curtain or paddling pool, with a chair in the middle. Each child can sit in the chair, hold an open umbrella as you pour water over the top. You can also sing 'It's raining, it's pouring' or 'Rain rain go away'.
Paint water pistols - fill various water pistols with coloured, watered down paint. Grab a large sheet of paper and squirt the paint on to the paper.
Stacking towers - grab 8 paper cups and draw faces on them. Take turns to build a pyramid, knock it down and build again.
Paint balloon pop - fill water balloons with paint and tie off. Place balloons on paper and take turns for the children to select a balloon, pop it and see the pain spurt everywhere.
Walk on the beach - grab 5-6 trays and fill them with various natural materials (grass, pebbles, sand, twigs, leaves). Line them up and get each child to walk over the trays, and describe what they can feel as they go.
Stage 4 - Focus Shift and Re-engage Attention
In the final stage, the adult leading the session will model an activity and then each child, with the exact same equipment, should attempt to copy what had been demonstrated. They do not have to accurately what was modelled, the aim for this session is for the child to watch and then have a go themselves independently and with confidence. At the end of the session, they can then return to you and demonstrate what they have learned to do.
Activities for this particular stage are a little bit more involved than previous stages. Some activities you could do are;
Lego patterns - print off patterns of different coloured lego/duplo blocks. In boxes, provide those lego blocks and the patterns and demonstrate how the blocks can be built to match the pattern.
Make a rocket - using toilet rolls, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, glue and string, create a rocket and demonstrate a '5,4,3,2,1...blast off!'
Rainbow fish - demonstrate painting a paper plate blue, glueing on fins and a tail and then decorating with sequins and googly eyes. Give the children all the same equipment and let them decorate their own rainbow fish.
Birthday cake - using play dough or plasticine, roll into a round ball. Poke candles into the top, decorate with sequins or glitter.