Teaching any child how to resist their impulses and stay on task is a difficult feat, but teaching a child with executive functioning difficulties how to inhibit their impulses can make even the most patient parent want to run for the hills! Here at Abilities, we can help children with Autism and ADHD stay on task and independently complete daily routines by implementing some pretty simple strategies. A therapist favorite for promoting on task behavior is the Time Timer! This tool is a great way to teach children the concept of time as a system of measurement. Showing time disappear helps to teach children how to pace themselves as they work. It also functions as a motivational tool, encouraging your child to stay on task as they can see that break time is nearing!
Visual schedules are another useful tool for helping to keep your child on task and to ease difficult transitions. Visual schedules serve as an external reminder to complete specific tasks, helping to keep wandering minds and bodies focused. They can range from a broad overview of the day's events to an explicit, sequential illustration of a particular task. For children with very short attention spans, you can also use a "first-then" schedule to promote intermittent, sustained engagement in various tasks.
For the biggest impact, pair visual schedules with a visual timer. At first, the parent/teacher/caregiver should set a reasonable time frame for the child to complete each task represented on the visual schedule, and eventually, as the child matures and progresses, transition to the child independently estimating and setting their own visual timer. This is a great way to teach your child the higher-level skill of time management!
Don't forget about the environment! It's hard enough for children with executive functioning difficulties to stay on task without any extra demands on their attention, so make sure to look around and remove excess sensory input. For example, a child's homework space should be quiet and visually uncluttered. Distracting toys and games should be put in another room, allowing for all of your child's attentional capabilities to be directed toward the task at hand. Using a fun and motivating tent as a child's homework space is a fun option for blocking out distracting sensory input.
Know your child's limits! While the long-term goal of these strategies is to increase your child's sustained attention skills, you must first set your child up for success by knowing their limits. Take some time to notice how long your child can attend and how many reminders they need to stay on task. Make sure your initial demands don’t exceed their capabilities. Over time, slowly begin to challenge their limits by increasing the expectations/demands.
What if my child is not motivated to use these tools?
Motivating your child to use these tools can be tricky and often a simple token economy can be just the right fix! First, take the time to identify highly motivating rewards. Then explicitly explain to your child the specific tasks or behaviors they must carry out in order to earn a token. Lastly, assign a specific number of tokens that must be earned for them to "trade in" for an identified reward. Remember that the effort a child has put forth must be representative of the reward earned. For example, a child earning 5 tokens for using these strategies 5 days in a row would not "trade in" for a Ferrari, but rather an opportunity to pick a treat from a treasure chest filled with inexpensive trinkets.
Ready to get started? Remember to be consistent and only set achievable demands!
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