To the casual observer, I probably look quite ‘normal’ every day of my life. I have no distinguishing differences from most people. I’m your average mom, teacher, and wife. Anyone who doesn’t know me well would probably tell you I handle life as good as the next person. They would be wrong.
On the inside, I’m a hot mess most days. I am thinking about 6000 different things at once. My brain has the ability to compartmentalize these 6000 things so I don’t have a stroke but they are all there, every day. Things range from the mundane of what to have for dinner tonight to the crazy of what if the sun explodes today to the normal every day of I can’t wait for spring break. The majority of days I’m able to keep those thoughts in check. Some days they run rampantly through my every thought. These are the days that I have trouble concentrating and focusing. I can be looking directly at you as you are talking and not hear a single word you said. These are the days I ask for you to repeat yourself about 100 times because I truly can’t focus on what you are saying. It takes physical effort for me to focus and concentrate. These are also the days I usually go home and take a nap because I am physically and mentally exhausted.
Why am I telling you all this? Why is this important to know?
The next time you have an ASD student who appears to not be listening or paying attention, I hope you realize that it’s not because they don’t care about you or what you are saying. It could be that thoughts are running like elephants through their head. If it happens nearly everyday, it could be that they haven’t learned how to tame those thoughts. Other ways students may show their inability to focus thoughts are talking about topics completely unrelated to what you have discussed or asked a question about and repeating something over and over again.
What can I do to help focus a student?
Honestly, there will be days where there is no way you are going to get a student to focus on your words or questions. However, most days you should be able to tell the student to pay close attention to your words. Be sympathetic. Say ‘I understand that you are having a difficult time hearing what I’m saying. Please pay attention to my question and answer it.’ Also, if you give the student the opportunity to discuss what’s running through their brain, they will probably try harder to do your work. I have 5th-8th graders and I usually tell them that as soon as we finish our work, we can talk about anything they want to but while we are working we have to focus on the work topic. I have to redirect often but they are always willing to try their hardest knowing that in the end we will discuss their topics.
As always, if you have questions, feel free to leave me a comment.