Can he hear me? or is he ignoring me? – Explaining the Development of Attention.

He’s playing with his Ninja Turtles: Donatello and Raphael are immersed in an exhilarant adventure. Or maybe he’s watching TV eyes glued to the screen.

You call his name and he doesn’t respond, you call again, still…nothing. A third time and he doesn’t even flicker.

You feel a flash of anger, ‘I can’t believe he’s ignoring me!’ Then a feeling of worry, ‘is something wrong with his hearing?’

If you identify with this scenario you are not alone. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out whether to be mad, or concerned in these situations.

More specifically, whether this is an expression of defiance; or just part of normal development.

For most kids up to the age of 4 this type of behaviour is completely normal. At this age they are still developing their attention skills. Their attention is  what they call ‘single channelled’.

Ok so let me explain, single channelled means they can only attend through one ‘sensory’ channel at a time. They can concentrate on something they have chosen to do. But, in order to do this they have to ignore outside stimulation so they can organise their thoughts, and concentrate.

Here’s the thing, when the turtles are on an adventure,  it is taking up all of his sensory brain power. He doesn’t have any left, to attend to you calling his name.

Simply stated? he is ignoring you… but it’s not his fault.

Of course, as children get a bit older between 4-5 they begin to develop dual channelled attention. They can understand verbal instructions related to what they are doing without interrupting what they are doing to look at the speaker

So, at this age, They should start to be able to listen to instructions about what they are doing without needing to shift their full attention to you. 

By 6 Their auditory, visual and manipulatory channels are fully integrated and attention is well established and sustained. They can sure hear you when you call them to lay the table!

Let me switch gears here for a moment: I am describing typical development of attention here. There are Red Flags you should be aware of that may indicate a child has a hearing loss or attention difficulty.  If you are at all concerned at all about your child’s hearing you should take them to you GP and ask for a referral to Audiology.

Some things to look out for.

  • Speech/language delay or differences
  • Says “what?” or “huh?” often
  • Difficulty understanding speech in background noise
  • Difficulty hearing in one or both ears on the phone
  • Increased TV/stereo volume compared to rest of family
  • Not startling to very loud sounds
  • Attention or behavioral problems
  • Academic difficulties
  • Unable to detect where sounds are coming from

For strategies for how to gain the attention of a younger child – read next week’s blog post

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *