Do you have a student with autism or ADD/ADHD in your class that has a hard time sitting still or focusing? Often providing small opportunities for movement can actually increase your special students concentration. The key is to find something discrete that allows for some movement, but doesn’t become a distraction to the class. Here are our top five strategies:
Use an Exercise Band around the Student’s Chair legs.
A simple exercise band wrapped around the front of a student’s chair legs allows a child to kick and get their energy out, increasing focus and decreasing distracting movements. Best of all if the student is sitting at a desk it’s completely quiet and out of the site of other students.
Give the Child a Small Hand Fidget.
There are a couple of hand fidgets that work really well in the classroom depending on the student. Small stretchy frogs have long been a classroom favorite. These work well because they’re inexpensive, discrete, and are great for squishing between fingers. This is a nice option for mainstream kids who tend to lose things. Usually they come in a bag so a teacher can keep a supply in her desk for the times a student really needs it.
Isoflex balls work well with older students who may also be dealing with anxiety. Squeezing the ball or putting it between a student’s hands to squish can instantly relieve tension and increase focus. A micro bead filling provides enough give so that it takes some effort to squeeze, but not too much effort. However, the skins of these balls are made of several thin layers of latex. So if you have a destructive student, or one with a latex allergy, look at another option.
Tangle Relax This fidget can be broken into two smaller rings, is very sturdy, and fairly inexpensive. It comes with a bumpy rubber skin that is a very pleasant tactile experience. Extremely durable, this is a nice option for elementary age students as well as adults. However, it is designed to snap open and shut and can break into small parts that could pose a choking hazard for young children or those with cognitive challenges.
Let them Sit on a “Wiggle Seat“
A simple wiggle seat a student can sit on can encourage exercising the student’s core muscles. These small core exercises can keep energy levels down, decrease distractions and help with focus. If you have a student with posture issues you may want to get a Move N Sit. This is a wedge shaped cushion that encourages the pelvis to tilt forward aligning the spine. Thankfully, there are discount versions available that are just as good.
Let them chew something.
Do you have a student who is sucking or chewing on their clothes, hands or pencils? If so this may be a calming or focusing strategy. Why not give them something appropriate to chew on? There are a variety of inexpensive chewable jewelry options as well as clear pencil toppers you can use in the classroom. For younger children (preschool and under) a popular option is a Teether Ball. Not only is it a chewy, but it can keep hands busy during circle time.
Try a weighted vest, or Lap Pad.
Easily distracted students may respond positively to the additional weight of a weighted lap pad or a weighted vest provides. In a recent review article from the Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders the author noted:
“Five of the seven studies reported some improvements in behavior of children with ASD. Weighted vests seemed to reduce stereotypic (repetitive) behaviors in some of the children. The vests increased attention or on-task time for some children. However, these were small studies and could not measure behaviors reliably.”
Every child is different. Sometimes finding a focus strategy for your special student takes some trial and error. If you have a helpful focus strategy please share it!