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Attention and listening


A child with attention and listening difficulties will find it hard to focus their attention on tasks, at the level and amount of time expected for their age.

Please check out the toolkits to the right for help and advice as to how you can help your child before deciding whether a referral into the service is necessary. These toolkits provide advice on how to spot difficulties your child might be having with talking and using language. They give advice on activities you can do at home with your child. You should select the toolkit for the right age group of your child. There are also web links that you may find useful.

It is important to rule out any hearing difficulties – your health visitor or GP can refer your child for a hearing assessment if you are worried or have a concern. It can be difficult to establish if some behaviour is due to difficulties with attention or understanding.

If you have any concerns about the child’s understanding, please refer to Speech and Language Therapy. If you are unsure, contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service on 0300 247 0090 (Mon – Fri 9am-5pm).

If attention and listening is the sole concern, with no concerns about the child’s ability to understand or communicate, then a referral to the SENS service (via your school SENCo) would be most appropriate.

These video’s may give further ideas for supporting attention and listening skills:

How do I know if my child might have difficulties with their attention and listening?

There are a number of ways you may notice your child has difficulty with their attention and listening. Look out for:

  • Difficulties in focusing on activities, especially activities directed by others (for example, listening to a story, taking part in a group game) in noisy and/or unfamiliar environments
  • The child not appearing to listen
  • Having to repeat instructions several times
  • The child moving quickly or flitting between different tasks when playing, rather than settling on one task for a period of time
  • The child being highly distractible and turning at every noise

How we can help

Activities we use may include:

  • Using visual checklists and timetables to help the child know what is expected of them
  • Using timers to help the child know how long they need to focus for
  • Gradually building up the length of time the child can concentrate for, with regular breaks
  • Practising careful listening in games and activities

Who might my child see?

  • A speech and language therapist (if there are concerns about the child’s understanding and/or talking)
  • SENS team – to look at how school can use strategies to help
  • A community paediatrician – if there are concerns that the child’s attention and listening difficulties are linked to other difficulties/differences