Focus Strategies for Special Needs Students


It can be hard for a special student to focus or sit still in class or at a table. While medication can be very helpful for many it is not an option for all children. The following list of ideas and products have helped many special students focus in class and at the dining room table.

Chewies or gum work well to help students calm or refocus.

Fidgets, are small toys a student can hold in their hand, and help students increase focus and attention. (Rotz, Wright, 2005) Good fidgets should have a combination of an interesting tactile composition, pliability, and some movement opportunities for the hands and fingers.

Seating Discs
Children who have problems sitting tend to "under register" movement, and without that ability, they can't focus. Although they look strong in quick actions, the body can't endure long periods of sitting or standing. Sit discs are ideal for providing kids with movement and tactile stimulation while sitting in their seats. Literature indicates positive effects of dynamic seating for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) for attention and classroom behaviors (Schilling & Swartz, 2004; Schilling, Washington, Billingsley, & Deitz, 2003).

As a group, students with IEPs and those considered At-Risk demonstrated overall improvements and/or
consistencies in rate, accuracy, fluency, and comprehension while seated on an air-filled cushion. Students with IEPs showed the greatest increase in reading rate and comprehension, with a full or almost full grade level of improvement noted. Both the teacher and the students noted that the air-filled cushion was not disruptive and was easily accommodated into the classroom routine.

Timers help students understand the passage of time and can monitor their own activities. Better time awareness can help with focus and attention and also relieve stress and anxiety.

Wait Card
Create a simple card with the word “wait” written on it. For some students this extra reminder can help to keep them seated. Its important when using a wait card to make sure there is ample time for breaks.

Place an Exercise Band around the bottom of two front chair legs to help your student focus. Students can sit and fidget with their feet without disturbing the class.

Weighted Vest or Lap Pad
According to a study by the Challenge Infant Developmental Center, Brooklyn, New York children with autism, who used a weighted vest, displayed an increase in attention to task and decrease in self-stimulatory behaviors. The most consistent improvement observed was the decreased number of distractions.


Fidget to focus: outwit your boredom: sensory strategies for living with ADD Roland Rotz - Sarah D.Wright - iUniverse, Inc. - 2005

Schilling, D., & Schwartz, I. (2004). Alternative seating for young children with autism spectrum disorder: Effects on classroom behavior. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(4), 423–432.

Schilling, D. L., Washington, K., Billingsley, F. F., & Deitz, J. (2003). Classroom seating for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Therapy balls versus chairs. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy., 57, 534–541.