|Problem: The student appears to have difficulty paying attention (focusing, maintaining attention, shifting attentional focus, dividing attention) in academic or other domains.
Step 1: Organize observations relevant to the problematic behavior/issue
- Who is reporting the problem?
- When does it occur? (Include time of day, activities etc).
- Where does it occur?
- What tends to precede the problematic behavior/issue?
- What tends to follow the problematic behavior/issue?
- What is the age and functioning level of the student?
- Previous documentation/charts?
Step 2: Identify possible contributors to the problematic behavior/issue
In many cases, there are several contributors to the student’s identified problem. These contributors may interact with each other, therefore, it may be necessary to combine tests from different categories of possibilities. The existence of several interacting contributors may become obvious as you proceed through individual intervention experiments.
Depression: Some students may have difficulty attending because they are upset, depressed, and/or lack positive relationships with peers and/or adults. (See Tutorials on Depression; Peer Relationships.)
Relevant observations: The student frequently appears to be sad, does not appear to have friends, may sit by herself, and may not be involved in group social activities. She may exhibit difficulty interacting with peers. The student may often be seen working or playing independently while others are in groups. The student may rarely seem satisfied with the quality of her work or performance. She may appear moody or excessively tired. Young students may act out in ways that are difficult to explain. The student’s home environment may be triggering negative behavior in the classroom.
Useful experiments for assessment and intervention:
1. Observe and record the frequency and/or intensity of the problem behavior when a new teaching strategy or support is being implemented versus when it is not being implemented.
2a. Possible peer-relation teaching strategies or supports (See Tutorial on Peer Relations): Try to increase the likelihood of positive peer interaction. For example, partner the student with a carefully selected “peer buddy”. Have the two students work together and attend activities such as lunch, gym and recess together. Preset the student with scripted social interaction routines. Create a “Friendship Group” in which positive peer interactions are taught.
2b. Possible success/depression-related strategies or supports (See Tutorial on Depression): If it is possible that the student is depressed because of frequent failure (based on his internal standards of success), provide supports that ensure successful performance of meaningful tasks. Provide frequent (and accurate) praise. Ask others to praise the student for successful performance.
3. If the frequency and/or intensity of the targeted behavior decreases during intervention, then it may be that the problem behavior is related in part to depression and/or limited or uncomfortable peer social interaction. (See Tutorials on Peer Relationships; Depression.)
Possible referrals: School psychologist or counselor for psychological and social assessment