A Resource for Teachers, Clinicians, Parents, and Students by the Brain Injury Association of New York State.
Problem: The student can write or type words, but does not seem to be able to generate organized, coherent, and adequately long written compositions.
Cognitive / Self-Regulatory Possibility:
Attention deficit

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.

Attention deficit: Some students may have difficulty with written composition as a result of an attention deficit. (See Tutorial on Attention.)

Relevant observations: The student does not maintain focus for expected periods of time or on one activity at a time. The student frequently ‘fidgets’ and may have difficulty completing tasks or comprehending tasks. The student has difficulty doing two things at once (e.g., listening to the teacher and taking notes). The student has difficulty shifting from one focus of attention to another. The student says that his mind wanders while he is reading. This behavior may interfere with the student’s ability to learn and retain information and generate ideas. The student does not appear to have other problems that could explain the difficulty attending. Medical records may indicate a neurological basis for this difficulty.

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.
  2. Possible attention-related teaching strategies or supports (See Tutorial on Attention): Create an environment that provides support for the student to focus and maintain attention. Examples: (a) The student may benefit from a quiet, distraction-free area to complete assignments; (b) Attention-focusing printed cues, timers, or other external strategies may help; ( c) Frequent changes in activity may help focus attention; (d) It may be beneficial to reward the student for on-task behavior; (e) With younger students, a game can be made out of maintaining focus.
  3. If written composition improves as a result of the intervention, then this student’s difficulty with attention may be contributing to the problem behavior. (See Tutorial on Attention)

Possible referrals: Physician to explore possible neurological basis and possible medication intervention; school psychologist for assessment of attentional functioning

A program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

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The Brain Injury Association of New York State
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