Whether you’re working as an occupational or speech therapist in a school setting, it can be a challenge to work with kids who can’t sit still. Some children with certain conditions, such as Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder, may have sensory processing issues, which results in a decreased attention span.
In some cases, even children who don’t have a diagnosis of either condition can have trouble remaining still long enough to cooperate and get through therapy. In fact, one of the reasons some kids are referred to occupational therapy is because they have trouble sitting still in class.
Before you can develop strategies to help your students sit still, try to identify the reason behind their inability to focus.
Some children are sensitive to light or sound, and they may have trouble settling down because of it. Certain children also have tactile defensiveness, which makes their skin overly sensitive. They may feel a tag on the back of their shirt or elastic on the wrist of a jacket that makes them uncomfortable and fidgety. Consider ways to make the student’s environment as comfortable as possible for sensory regulation.
It’s also essential to understand that for most of the children you work with, focusing and sitting still depends on several factors including a child’s mental alertness, nutrition, rest, and neurological functioning.
There are several things you can do as speech, occupational, or physical therapists to help children focus during your therapy sessions. Consider the following:
Add movement breaks
It’s unrealistic to expect some children to sit still most of their school day. It may improve a child’s focus if they have an opportunity to take a break and move a bit. Remember each situation and each child is different. Some children may get totally off track if they get up to stretch, while others might focus better after a break.
Consider when you schedule students
If you have some flexibility in your scheduling, hold therapy sessions with children who have a difficult time sitting still after they have participated in a lot of physical activity. Children need to move. In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for kids to spend a lot of time indoors playing video games and watching television, but everyone needs to get some exercise and release some energy, especially kids. Some students may focus better and sit still if they are first allowed to move.
Use a fidget
Some children need to have something do to with their hands in order to pay attention. There are toys on the market specially designed to help kids who fidget. Fidget toys are tools that can calm students and help improve their focus and attention. Toys come in various shape, sizes and textures. Try giving your student one of these toys during a therapy session and see if it cuts down on fidgeting and improves focus.
In some cases, you may have to change how you normally do things. You might have to change the number of activities you do per session. Some students may do better with multi-step activities while others may focus better with shorter activities. By being flexible and creative, you may help a child develop better attention skills.