By Wai Seng Thong (Speech and Language Therapist)
What is Attention Autism?
One of the things I love about visiting schools is the expressions of joy on the faces of the children I work with. When they know it is bucket time some children can barely stay sitting down. In case you have never heard about Attention Autism, it’s an intervention designed by Gina Davies, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, aiming to develop natural and spontaneous communication through the use of visually based and highly motivating activities for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Attention Autism is one of my favourite activities as it makes learning fun and memorable for children. Before I start, NO you don’t need to be an X Factor level singer, but you do need to be able to hold a tune as this helps the children sing along. You also need to prepared to collect strange and fun toys to make the activity differ from week to week. I tend to use eBay and pound shops to add regularly to my collection.
All you need to do is have fun, as it engages the kids with your activity. If you are engaged, they will be too. It’s all about engagement, fun, motivation and showing them something worth communicating about.
Benefits of Attention Autism
Attention Autism is a regular part of my week. In the school I work in the children are always desperate to know what is in the bucket and jump up and down trying to look inside (this makes me think of children trying to take a sneaky peak in Santa’s toy bag on Christmas Eve!).
What is fascinating about this programme is that it sparks their curiosity and therefore creates reasons for them to communicate by asking questions, commenting and guessing what might be coming out of that mysterious bucket. From my experience of using this programme, it does not merely work on the children’s attention and listening skills, but also on their language skills (both receptive and expressive language skills). These can be a challenge for children with ASD. The sessions can be tailored to build on their vocabulary knowledge, for example, they can be themed around dinosaurs or superheroes etc.
What a session looks like and example activities
A myriad of themed activities can be incorporated into an Attention Autism programme. For example, bucket time can be filled with dinosaur toys (from sensory to wind up dinosaur toys etc).
I start with the song, ‘I’ve got something in my bucket, in my bucket, in my bucket. I’ve got something in my bucket, and I wonder what it is. Let’s look and see!’. The children sing along transfixed on the bucket, wondering what might be inside. Just a warning this song will take over your mind and at times I can hear it when I am mopping the floor or shopping! You then demonstrate the toys one by one and the idea is the kids watch, pay attention and do not touch. Hard to imagine, but it is surprisingly easy to achieve when following the attention autism programme.
The activities ‘Sleeping dinosaurs’ and ‘Roll the dinosaurs’ involve the children pretending to be asleep and rolling each other along the floor and more song singing. There are also more hands-on activities where children make dinosaurs with Play-Doh or arts and craft materials with big googly eyes. My kids love it all!
Useful tips when running an Attention Autism group
Always remember these useful tips when you are running an Attention Autism group:
• Say less.
• Use lots of pauses.
• Exaggerate gestures and facial expressions.
• Give time for thinking and stay quiet!
• Show first then add words.
• Have a clear idea of your objective.
• Make sure your activity is the most exciting thing in the room! Cover up or remove distractions.
• Turn disasters into ‘part of the plan’. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out, this is a great way to model ‘uh oh’ and ‘oops’ etc.
As Gina Davies says: ‘let’s create an irresistible invitation for learning’. Attention Autism principles can be generalised into curriculum activities, for example, literacy and numeracy to facilitate learning and skills development.
Let’s really think about the activities we plan for kids. Is the activity irresistible? Is our activity worth communicating about? Fun and engaging activities create good memories. Let’s create a shared experience that is memorable and share laughs with our kids to help them learn.
For further information and more ideas on Attention Autism, take a look at these:
Facebook page - Gina Davies Autism Centre