Attention and concentration after brain injury

A child’s attention may be affected following a brain injury – tips and strategies can help your child manage some of the difficulties experienced.

From a young age, children are often told to ‘pay attention’ or to ‘concentrate’. However, this might not be easy to do for a child who has had a brain injury.

Paying attention is something that probably all of us will have struggled to do at times – possibly when we are doing an activity that we don’t particularly like or when we are tired.

Being able to pay attention means being able to listen or watch and take things in. A child who has had a brain injury might struggle to do these things.

Paying attention can be one of the toughest things to do after a brain injury. It may take a lot of energy to focus. Children and their families tell us that they have to put lots of effort into reminding themselves to pay attention.

Attention difficulties after a brain injury

  • If your child's brain injury has affected their attention or concentration skills, they may struggle to do the following things:
  • Listen to other people
  • Read a story from start to finish
  • Follow a storyline of a film
  • Focus on a conversation or task if there are other distractions, such as music in the background

What can make attention problems worse for a child after a brain injury?

  • Tiredness, fatigue or lack of sleep
  • Worry or stress
  • Depression
  • An activity that they don’t enjoy 
  • Side effects from medication

Ways to improve attention difficulties

Keeping as fit and healthy as possible is a key element when it comes to working on attention.

Some tactics which you can support your child in doing:

  • Regular exercise
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting plenty of sleep and rest
  • Taking breaks
  • Doing one thing at a time
  • Prompt your child to refocus if you see them becoming distracted or not concentrating. And encourage them to ask other family members, friends and teachers to do the same

Change the environment to improve attention skills

Sometimes a change of layout and surroundings can have a beneficial impact for someone who is trying to concentrate on something.

The below ideas might help your child focus. You might even find these tips helpful in your own life when it comes to concentrating on a particular task.

  • Try to create a calm environment for your child when they need to focus – so perhaps using a quiet room to do homework, for example
  • Clutter free, neat spaces are ideal for doing something that needs attention
  • Turn off the TV or any background music
  • Encourage family members and your child's friends and teachers to speak slowly and clearly

Practice attention skills

Spend some time with your child, practicing the below strategies. Try to gently remind your child of these pointers on a day-to-day basis. Over time they should become second nature.

  • Face the person you are talking to
  • When talking to another person, summarise or repeat the key points back to them
  • Remind your brain to ‘focus’ as you are doing an activity
  • Take notes
  • Say the steps of a task out loud while you do the task
  • Try to ignore distracting thoughts when you are trying to focus 
  • Practice doing tasks which you find difficult in small steps

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