Teaching a child to become more aware of their surroundings

Well, this is going to be a fun blog to get into! We have asked our parents and therapists to give us ideas of blog topics to help more people through the experience of real families. This was a request from parents and therapists alike. Why are our children not aware of their surroundings? Is it a question of lack of awareness or interest or perhaps both?

Luckily we are humble enough to say that we don’t know the answer or the reason each child seems unaware of people or things at times. What we do know is what has helped our children become more aware and we want to share this with you.

AIMS stands for Awareness, Interests, Movement, Sensory support system. The reason why Awareness is the first word in our acronym is that without being aware of something, how are you supposed to observe, learn from or like that item or person? The second word and concept in our acronym is Interests and there lies the key in how you will elicit a higher state of awareness in your child – through his or her interests.

We have had parents saying that they don’t believe their child is interested or likes any toy. It might not be a toy – we have to think outside the box to understand our sometimes quirky children – it might be a particular light and how it looks on a particular surface. Or a sound or no sound (complete silence), an area in the garden or the feeling of a soft, squishy stress ball. There is something that your child likes – that’s a fact. We just have to figure out what this is. As soon as you have created a “likes” list, you can now use this to connect with your child and slowly bring awareness from what they might be thinking of and not sharing to the toy, activity, light or sound they seem to enjoy.

This will be a first step of awareness, not the controversial “look at me” command. We do not feel that is true awareness as it’s a forced way of telling your child what he or she HAS to do. True awareness comes with pure interest. Let’s call this immediate awareness. Now we want to work towards surrounding awareness. A fun way of creating opportunities for improvement in awareness is building an obstacle course with your child. Keep it fun and not too challenging – remember you are not working on gross motor skills, you are trying to show your child the reason they need to be more aware of their surroundings. Do the obstacle course with them – keep it silly and fun by maybe bumping into objects by accident to show that we are all unaware at times. Keep his or her attention by playfully introducing more obstacles and also ask your child to build the course for you. There is endless fun to be had with an inside or outside obstacle course. You can bring in arts and crafts as a part of the course or some sensory play, jumping in a ballpit, squishing your toes in paint and hopping outside through hula hoops. This makes me want to build an obstacle course in my room right now! That’s how easy it should be though – you don’t need a super expensive OT room as an obstacle course – you can use what you have. Chairs, a bed, couches, blankets, hula hoops, balls, paint, chalk board. These are all items that most families (with children) have.

Another idea is to move things around in the rooms your child are familiar with. This strategy usually works better for children that are somewhat more aware and have shown some interest in their surroundings. See the expression on your child’s face and joke with them, by asking where did the bed go? 🙂 Mindful walks is yet another great activity that we include in our programs. We ask the therapists to walk with their child and ask them after the walk what they smelled, heard, saw. Remember again to keep it on your child’s developmental and age-appropriate level, but you can ask him or her to draw what they saw or go show you again what they smelled, so you can help articulate this. If you can, take videos of these activities as this is an excellent way to help your child become more observant and also recall events. Thus, ultimately learn for future interaction and similar situations.

It’s always important to gesture to sounds that you can hear, for example when an airplane flies by. The more you are aware of different sounds, smells, people entering the room, sights, etc. the more your child will become aware. Model behavior truly is a gem of a strategy. The problem comes in sometimes that we are not the best role models, but we require our children to always strive for perfection. Now does that sound fair to you?

One more idea – include sensory games where you add items (that your child is familiar with) in a bag and he or she needs to not look, but feel and tell you what the items are (one at a time). This is an activity for a child that is showing good verbal skills. You can also play “I spy with my little eye” as this is yet another game that helps with awareness of immediate surroundings.

To refine awareness skills for older children or some children that have “mastered” these building blocks, we need to do a more in depth assessment and find out what they are struggling with. This way we can create a more strategic IEP (Individual Educational Plan) for your child. Send us an email: hello@aimsglobal.info to find out how we can support you and your child better.

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