How many times have we asked this question to our children? 5? 20? 50? 100? We may have used this question more than we realised. As a speech – language therapist, I often catch myself uttering these words many times during my sessions. But have we asked ourselves, why do our children seem to have a hard time attending to what we are saying?
Is it an attention problem?
Or is it language difficulty?
Some children who developed the ability to pay attention well may learn language faster than children who do not. Some children lose their interest very quickly and oftentimes we find ourselves chasing after them after 2 minutes of sitting down with a book in our hands. There are days that our children can show good concentration skills and pay attention to what they are doing. But there are also days that all they do is run around, not listening to anyone.
At this point, it is best to understand how our children develop attention span as they grow. This way, we will be able to identify whether our children may have attention issues, speech and language problems or both. (Sen P. & Vasudeva R. 2002)
Your child’s attention is only held by the main stimulus at that particular moment such as the toys in front of him, loud noises or a rattle in his hand. He may be able to concentrate on one thing for up to 5 minutes but would shift his attention from one to another if distractions are present.
At this age, your child can pay attention to self-chosen tasks. Sometimes, he gets too concentrated to what he is doing to the point where it is very difficult to distract him/her from it. He may appear to be ignoring you but at this age, he can only pay attention to one activity at a time. Sometimes, if he is too immersed in his task, he may not even listen to you at all. This rigidity can make your child seem very stubborn. The important thing to remember is to stop his present activity first and then give him/her an instruction.
At this age, most children can sit for 20 minutes or so and can switch between listening to you and going back to their activity. They follow instructions more easily and have the capacity to learn new things. At this age, they begin to show interest in books because of the increased concentration skills.
At this age, your child is now able to engage in longer periods of meaningful play. He may begin to show interest and be involved in using figurines for role – play. He uses imagination more frequently, that sometimes he confuses fact with fantasy.
Children at this stage is expected to learn effectively in school concentrating on more than one thing at a time. They should be able to listen to the teacher while they continue with the activity at hand.
Children with attention issues like those who are diagnosed with Attention Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) may show issues with speech and language in various modalities. Typically, issues are seen in the way they construct their own sentences (syntax).
This is often observed when a child has difficulty using/forming his sentences using appropriate grammatical rules. Some children also show difficulty in understanding word meanings and organization. These children oftentimes have poor vocabulary, word-finding difficulties (e.g. uses fillers such as “that thing”, “you know”), and have difficulties understanding spoken and written language (semantics).
Children with attention issues also find it hard to organise their thoughts and are often observed to say everything that comes to mind. Oftentimes, these children are seen indifferently as they tend to show inappropriate social behaviours (pragmatics) such as difficulty turn taking during conversations, often interrupting other people while they are talking and difficulty in expressing emotional meaning of words.
They can also have language difficulties relating to their impulsivity and poor organisational skills resulting in:
Thus, a child with attention issues is more likely to have speech-language problems as they grow older.
– Children’s attention span develops overtime. Adjust your expectations based from what your child can do
– Attention issues and speech and language problems may co-exist.
– Children with attention issues may affect their social behaviours in various social situations.
– A comprehensive assessment done by a speech and language therapist can help identify if your child has speech-language issues, attention issues or both.
Sen P. & Vasudeva R. 2002. No More Baby Talk. A Parent’s Guide to Speech and Language Development.
Horowitz L. J. & Rost C. 2004. Helping Hyperactive Kids – A Sensory Integration Approach.