Become Aware of the Distractions
When anyone is trying to learn something new, distractions work against the process. For example, have you ever tried to learn a new computer program and people won’t stop talking or asking you questions? If you are like most people, you probably will have a hard time learning what you need to until they leave you alone. If we interrupt a learner’s exploration and experimentation by telling the individual he/she is doing a good job or trying to show the individual what he/she can do, we interrupt the learning.
We need to minimize distractions as much as possible for all learners, recognizing that we can probably not eliminate them entirely. This includes making sure a learner is not hungry, tired, or wet and that the room is not too hot, too cold, too overstimulating, too under-stimulating. We also need to keep in mind that a learner’s tolerance for distractions can vary from day to day or moment to moment. Take a moment to survey the environment and consider what distractions can be eliminated. For example, can the radio or television be turned off during an activity. Can a space be created that provides a bit of a visual barrier to other activities going on in the vicinity. If the child his hungry, will he be distracted by the smells of food being prepared in the room. Even if we can’t eliminate the distraction entirely, we need to be mindful of the impact that distraction has on the child. Perhaps we can look for highly motivating activities or materials that help the child overcome the distractions to be able to engage.
A common distraction, professionals and parents often contribute is our tendency to talk nonstop to the child while the child is playing. There are times for comments when the child take a brief pause in his or her activity, but we need to keep our comments simple and brief.
It is good to think through the activity and make sure that everyone is using consistent language to label the child’s actions and the objects he/she prefers. We need to communicate in ways that are meaningful to the child; this includes gestures, vocalizations, tactual signals, signs, symbols and simple words. Remember to keep your comments short and simple, highlighting the most critical ideas. Always take time at the end of the activity to review what the child has done. This is the time when a greater focus can be put on the language that describes the activity.
We also need to use appropriate educational treatments with the learner when we engage in adult-child learning activities. (See the Five Phases of Educational Treatment.)
Isaac and the Distracting Chair
In this video we see Isaac, a young child with autism, and his Music Therapist, Karen, playing together. Isaac loves the beanbag chair and wants to go sit in it. Karen is trying to motivate him to come play with her. Karen responds to him and offers a variety of materials she hopes will motivate him to come play and overcome the distraction of the chair. She doesn’t try to correct his behavior, but instead continues to offer things that can bring him into activity with her. Sometimes we can engineer the environment to make it free from distracting elements, and sometime we can’t. It is hard to turn your attention to something else, but it is an important skill for any child to develop. When Karen brings out the Thunder Stick, Isaac is able to turn his attention from the chair and join the activity.
Trevor and the Distracting Paper
In the next video you will see Trevor who is being asked to draw shapes on paper. It becomes apparent that he is more interested in coloring the print that is on the scrape paper. How could this activity be changed to turn this distraction into a motivating activity? The staff at Penrickton printed out shapes on the paper and Trevor could trace or color in the squares.
Dureyea’s Teachers Pick the Right Time to Talk
One distraction we can eliminate is our own commentary on a child’s play. We do want to provide the important serve-and-return responses so critical to the development of conversation and communication. However, we need to keep our comments simple and brief, trying to offer them in natural pauses offered by a child. We can focus more on sharing language after the activity is finished by taking time to review the activity that has just been completed. In the two videos that follow we see staff at Penrickton playing with Dureyea.
Dureyea and Pat
In the first video the adult attempts to imitate Dureyea as he babbles into a pan.
Dureyea and the Colored Cups
In the next video we see the teacher providing Dureyea with the color word for each of the cups and suction toys that he plays with on a Light Board. Her comments are limited primarily to just the color name. She also provides the matching color of suction toy to go with the cup Dureyea is looking at and names it.