Attention Autism - What is it?

Many individuals with Autism can struggle with attention – especially with things they find boring or have no interest in. With younger children, many settings use something called Attention Autism – this features something called Bucket Time.

Attention Autism is a learning approach created by speech and language therapist Gina Davies, that aims to develop natural and spontaneous communication skills in Autistic children through the use of visually based and highly motivating activities.

It has seen some controversy as some within the Autistic community have raised concerns that the approach is based on neurotypical development, and does not allow for the variation in ways in which an Autistic child might demonstrate their attention and listening skills, however, in many cases, it seems to be successful.

As well as the goal of developing natural and spontaneous communication skills in Autistic children, there are several other aims that Attention Autism hopes to achieve. These include:

  • To engage attention.
  • To improve joint attention.
  • To develop shared enjoyment in group activities.
  • To increase attention in adult-led activities.
  • To encourage spontaneous interaction in a natural group setting.
  • To increase non-verbal and verbal communication through commentary.
  • To build a wealth and depth of vocabulary.

Stages of Attention Autism:

The Attention Autism programme is split into a series of stages. A stage is only introduced when a child is ready. Practitioners spend as much time on each stage as they feel is required for a group of children.

Stage 1: The Bucket to Focus Attention

The first stage of Attention Autism involves filling a bucket with visually engaging toys that aim to help children learn how to focus their attention. The toys will be presented to the group by an adult. The adult will make simple comments about each toy to help introduce them to the children and expand their vocabulary.

These sessions are carried out 4 or 5 times a week. Practitioners start by showing 3 things in quick succession from the bucket, with the aim of building to 3-4 minutes of engaged attention. ‘Engaged attention’ may look different in an Autistic child to a neurotypical child - however the Attention Autism approach does not require the child to look at the adult, or to sustain eye-gaze on the objects - instead ‘engaged attention’ may be indicated by non-verbal signals such as seeming alert and interested, and looking frequently at the object. When the majority of the group is happy, relaxed and anticipating interesting things when the session starts, they are ready to move onto stage 2.



Stage 2: The Attention Builder

At this stage the group are introduced to highly appealing and visually stimulating activities.

This stage aims to build and sustain attention for a longer period of time.

Activities may include ideas such as those below:

  • Flour castles which can be built like sandcastles, using flour, a bowl and moulds.
  • Erupting volcano activity - this is a classic science experiment.
  • Fishbowl foam - fill a fishbowl with shaving foam and water, slowly drop different coloured food dye in and get children to describe the colours and speeds at which they see it fall.
  • Glowing Balloons - blow balloons up and place a glowstick inside each balloon. Turn the lights off for a fun, glowing, visual activity.

Stage 3: The Interactive Game - Turn-Taking and Shifting Attention

The adult leader demonstrates a simple engaging activity and invites children up one at a time to have a turn. This may be the same activity from stage 2 or something new.

In this stage the aim is for children to learn to shift their attention from learning as one of a group, to individual participation, and then to back to one of a group. In order for this stage to be successful and enjoyable for the child, it is important that the activity is just as interesting to watch as it is to take part in.

Stage 4: Individual Activity - Focus Shift and Re-engage Attention:

In the final stage of Attention Autism, the adult models an activity, and then each child is given the same equipment to use themselves. They do not have to copy exactly what the adult modelled. The aim is for the child watching to have a go independently with confidence, and then to take their materials back to the leading adult at the end. The activity should be engaging and enjoyable for the children.

Children will focus their attention as part of a group to watch the demonstration, then shift their attention to work on their individual task, and then finally shift their attention back to the group to show their completed task. This stage also aims to build independent working skills and instruction following skills. Autistic advocates, as well as Gina Davies, founder of the Attention Autism approach, both emphasise the importance of these activities being adapted to the needs of the child, for example sensory needs should be taken into account in the materials offered, and children should be able to move around the room and use their usual self-regulation techniques when needed.

Overall, The Attention Autism approach aims to aid an interest in learning new things and to inspire communication in whatever form works for the child. Practitioners should be trained in this approach in order to deliver it successfully. Grace has taken part in Attention Autism sessions for over 2 years now, and although slow, her development has come on MASSIVELY. She is now able to tolerate other children around her in small groups, her attention span is improving (providing it stimulates her interests) and her speech is making huge leaps and bounds. This approach is not for everyone on the spectrum, but it does hugely benefit many children.

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