Executive Functioning, Learning disabilities, Strategies

Tech for EF Part 1: Regulating Attention

Customized Learning Solutions was asked to host the Technology for Attention and Executive Functions booth at EdRev in San Francisco this year. We were there yesterday and had a great time at the event! The booth answered five frequently asked questions about how technology can help with executive functioning and attention problems.

Can tech help me regulate attention in class?

The Problem:

Students with attention and executive functioning challenges frequently have difficulty regulating their attention in class. While students with ADHD have attentional capacities, their true deficits are in their ability to manage that attention. If attention should be like a spotlight, those with attention problems operate a floodlight. Choosing where to focus that light can be difficult.

Solution #1: Incorporate Movement

Did you know that assistive technology doesn’t actually have to be “high tech?” This was news to me when I went to my first training with Shelley Haven, ATP, RET. It turns out, assistive technology (AT) refers to any tool that helps an individual work around limitations or increase their functionality. To incorporate movement you can use a lot of “low-tech” technology!

Why does movement help?

Those with ADHD are known for fidgeting, bouncing, or not being able to sit still. But, rather than a symptom, this is a strategy. The UC Davis MIND Institute (fun fact: Shayla used to work there!) has been researching the impacts of exercise and movement on ADHD and have found significant links between movement and cognitive performance.

They still aren’t sure why this works, but a leading hypothesis is that the constant movement keeps the arousal and stimulation level of the brain higher. We know that those with ADHD require a higher level of arousal in order to pay attention (this is why

high stimulation activities like video games and fast-paced sports are so attractive to those with ADHD). A lecture may not quite provide enough stimulation, so movement helps fill that bucket the rest of the way.

Some examples of ways to incorporate movement into the classroom in a non-disruptive way include:

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Stress ball fidgets
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Pencil-top fidgets

Fidgets

  • Pencil-top fidgets
  • Thera-putty
  • Stress balls

Alternative Seating

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Wiggle cushion
  • Wiggle seats
  • Yoga ball chairs
  • Standing desks

Solution #2: Sound system adjustments

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Yoga ball chair

This solution really addresses this spotlight vs. floodlight idea discussed earlier. It can be hard for the ADHD brain to filter input, so they end up paying the same amount of attention to the sound of the air conditioner as they are to the voice of the teacher.

One option is to create a whole-classroom sound system. Essentially, the teacher has a microphone and their voice is amplified throughout the entire classroom, making it easier for students to hear from any place in the room. Further, for those with ADHD, it makes the teacher’s voice stand out from the background noise.

A more individualized option is to use a wireless personal listening device. The teacher is still wearing a microphone, but the audio is transmitted (via FM radio or bluetooth) to an ear piece that an individual student is wearing. This not only enhances the audio for that student, but also drowns out some of the background noise, allowing for a more distraction-free listening.

Sitting near the teacher is a frequent strategy for those with ADHD, but these technologies help enhance that idea.

Incorporating movement allows students to meet their need for stimulation in order to focus, and enhancing the audio of a classroom helps to reduce distraction and increase listening ability.

These two solutions are examples of how tech can help regulate attention in the classroom.

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