To be, or not to be – a plea for less action

I write this post on New Year’s Day 2015 and like so many I also make my new year’s resolutions on this day. They are the usual suspects, eat less, take more exercise, be kind to the cat, etc. Then there are also a whole host of things I should do this year, all those things I put off last year and the year before. All good stuff, but another thought also goes through my mind. Should I, perhaps, do less and be more?

A few month’s ago I sat on a busy tube in London, just observing people. The majority was, of course, interacting with some form of screen. A few ‘oldies’ were reading an old fashioned book. One or two had dozed away. The young lady opposite me was first scrolling on her mobile but then put it away. Now there were two people doing nothing in the carriage. But this lasted no longer than about 20 seconds as she clearly felt uncomfortable doing nothing. So out came the mobile again.

It’s easy to get caught up in constantly having to do something. We make ‘to do’ lists and fill every day with activities. We do it for ourselves and I see so many parents that also organise this for their children. School is just part of the daily activities. Then there are all those after school clubs, sport activities, music lessons, homework .. each day filled to the brim doing things.

Just being seems to be a lost art. Just being with ourselves, with our thoughts, doing nothing, can feel scary. Just being with another person, not talking or doing something, is possibly even more scarier. So we start talking, just to break the silence or start doing something to fill the empty space.

The importance of ‘just being’ has come into sharp focus for me when working with non-verbal children. I observed that sometimes life around these children is full of speech – by the parents, teachers, carers – giving instructions, demanding attention, directing the child. Then these children are kept busy all the time, having to play or to complete school tasks. Their lives can be busy, very busy indeed. This is, of course, not always the case, but when I observe children that are kept so busy doing things, I sometimes wonder how it is for the child. I can, of course, only guess.

empty roomFor some of these children I have created ‘being time’. Just being together, with me, one of our staff members at a SAS Centre, or with a parent. Being together in a plain room without any furniture, with no pictures on the wall, no toys to distract. Just two people sitting together on plain cushions on the floor, with no visual or sound distraction. Doing nothing. Saying nothing. For a long time, often at least one hour each day, day in day out..

Many of these children exhibit poor eye contact. So there we are with nothing to do, nothing to say and not even looking at each other. Well, not quite. What I do during these sessions is to empty my mind of all those ‘to do’ things that tend pop up in my brain and focus fully on the child. Whenever there is a momentary glance by the child in my direction, I will be there, gently and lovingly looking at the child.

The effect can be remarkable. Many children improve their eye contact within weeks, become more interactive, start to negotiate non-verbally and overall become more content. I believe that these children need this ‘being time’ to give them time and space to connect to others. They need the experience of ‘being seen’ and accepted the way they are. All children, and for that matter all adults, will benefit from this ‘being time’. It’s truly magical.

So one of my resolutions for 2015 is to do all those things I put off until now, but also to actively create moments of nothing, time to be, either on my own or with someone I care for.

Steven Michaelis – New Year’s Day 2015.

Please feel free to leave comments or to contact me using the form below.

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Taking a wider view to find practical solutions.

Many autistic people find it difficult to process sensory information.
It often defines how they feel, think and act.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability.

You have to learn to live with it.

What if, just for a moment, we ignore the Autism label and look at how most people process sensory information. Maybe, just maybe, that will provide us with useful clues that will help our children.

Cocktail Party SyndromeCocktail Party Syndrome: The inability to focus attention on a voice in a noisy environment. People with only one functioning ear seem much more distracted by interfering noise than people with two healthy ears.[1] By comparing the auditory information from the left ear (processed mainly in the right brain hemisphere) with that of the right ear (processed mainly in the left hemisphere), the brain is able to pay selective attention to what is important.

People on the autistic spectrum often have similar issues, finding it difficult to pay attention to what, from a neuro-typical perspective, is regarded as important. All sounds are often perceived to mingle together and may also be experienced as overly loud.

Try this in a supermarket, train station or other noisy environment: completely close one ear with a finger and try to follow a conversation. Almost everyone will find this very difficult. Maybe it’s similar to how some people on the autistic spectrum perceive the world all the time.

Improved auditory processing and, most importantly, better communication between the two sides of the brain, can reduce the effects of Cocktail Party Syndrome. This can be achieved through targeted auditory brain training.

Sensory OverloadSensory Overload: On a cold rainy day in mid winter, after many hours of battling disaster after disaster at school or work, being hungry, tired and unappreciated, most people will have a stooped posture, looking down to the floor, rapidly being annoyed by any interruption or unexpected noise. It’s quite ‘normal’. Thousands of others returning home also feel like that. Under these circumstances they all have a reduced capacity to process sensory information and are easily overloaded. A good meal, a warm bath or shower, some soothing music and a comfortable couch mostly does the trick to return to normality.

Many people with autism experience the world around them like that all the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. No wonder they have meltdowns, have ‘behavioural issues’ or are not very sociable.

We receive some 11 million bits of information through our five main senses, every second of our waking day. If we want it or not, our brain will have to deal with this avalanche of information. Unless we ignore almost all of this input, we will experience sensory overload. People on the autistic spectrum, and those diagnosed with so called Attention Deficit Disorder, often do not delete enough of this information and thus get easily distracted or overloaded.

How well we process sensory input from our eyes, ears, skin, nose and mouth is key to our ability to make sense of the world and interact with it. We can train our brain to be better at sensory processing in many ways, from learning to play a musical instrument to specific brain training programmes.

Limited Language: I speak a number of languages, but not the language of the country I currently live in, Turkish. I understand it a bit and can use about one hundred words at a push, but when I’m listening in to a conversation in Turkish, I really struggle. I understand some words, but by the time I’ve recognised the word and retrieved the meaning from memory, the conversation has moved on and I’m lost. For a few minutes I’ll try to concentrate on what’s being said, but then I rapidly give up and retreat into my own world, without Turkish language.

I learned to speak my Dutch mother tongue quite fluently within about two years, but I’m struggling with Turkish for many years already, so the speed of learning to speak a language does vary, even when allowing for my far more advanced age now.

When someone speaks very slowly and clearly Turkish to me and there are no other interruptions to distract me, then I cope much better and when given plenty of time to string a few words together, I may even respond appropriately. Please note that a quiet environment will reduce the demands on my sensory processing centres, thus allowing more brain power to be used for language processing.

This is maybe similar to how language is perceived to people with no or limited speech. With language coming in too fast, word recognition being too slow and people not allowing enough time for a response, giving up speaking altogether may be the best option. For non-verbals there are undoubtedly other processing issues at stake too, but this simple scenario may well form part of the complex issue of speech delay.

Having a child with language delay is of course a great worry for parents, and given the importance of speech there are remarkably few effective interventions to help children progress with acquiring speech.

Constraint-Induced Language TherapyA growing body of evidence shows that trying to process language in the less suited right hemisphere of the brain may be part of language disorders such as developmental dyslexia and speech delay in autism [2] [3]. The Constraint-Induced Language Therapy (C-ILT) I have developed as part of the SAS methodology builds on this theory. By activating the left hemisphere with speech, whilst constraining the right hemisphere by feeding it complex non-speech material often leads to marked improvements in reading and speech development.

From working with thousands of children with autism I know that change may not be that easy, but is always possible. I know that understanding their world better, enables us to find innovative ways to help them grow. I know that simple to apply programmes often form part of the practical solutions that we seek for our children. There clearly is no golden bullet as far as speech acquisition is concerned, but the easy to apply C-ILT method may just be the extra push that a child requires to accelerated speech development.

Just three examples of situations that many people may recognise from their own lives and that might mirror how people with autism experience the world. Ultimately we’re not that different after all!

[1] Hawley ML, Litovsky RY, Culling JF (February 2004). “The benefit of binaural hearing in a cocktail party: effect of location and type of interferer”. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 115 (2): 833–43. doi:10.1121/1.1639908. PMID 15000195.

[2] “The reversal of cerebral asymmetry that occurred in ten of the dyslexic patients may result in language lateralization to a cerebral hemisphere that is structurally less suited to support language function and thus act as a risk factor for the development of reading disability.” Developmental Dyslexia, Evidence for a Subgroup With a Reversal of Cerebral Asymmetry; Daniel B. Hier, MD, Marjorie LeMay, MD, Peter B. Rosenberger, MD, Vincent P. Perlo, MD; Arch Neurol. 1978;35(2):90-92. doi:10.1001/archneur.1978.00500260028005.

[3] “In 57% of the autistic patients the right parietooccipital region was wider than the left, while this pattern of cerebral asymmetry was found in only 23% of the mentally retarded (sic) patients and 25% of the neurological patients. It is suggested that unfavorable morphologic asymmetries of the brain near the posterior language zone may contribute to the difficulties autistic children experience in acquiring language.” Autism and unfavorable left-right asymmetries of the brain; Hier DB, LeMay M, Rosenberger PB; J Autism Dev Disord. 1979 Jun; 9(2):153-9.

Seven essential learning steps – Concentration

This is installment number two in a seven part series on learning:

  1. Attention.
  2. Concentration.
  3. Connections.
  4. Understanding.
  5. Remembering.
  6. Recalling.
  7. Expression.

Today’s continuation tells you what needs to be achieved, if we have managed that first important step in the learning process – attention.

2. Concentration.

Concentration is closely linked to attention and the two are often mistakenly confused with one another. Attention, however, is the important first step of, you guessed it, paying attention to what is important. This attention may only last for a few seconds, but without those crucial short timespan, concentration on that subject is impossible.

If you want to experience the difference between Attention and Concentration, watch this Selective Attention Test on YouTube – it takes just over one minute, but may surprise you.

DSC_0740_tConcentration is the ability to continue to pay attention for a longer period of time on a single subject. An essential ingredient is to ignore outside influences that may distract us. We receive information of outside influences through our senses – we hear distracting sounds, see movements from the corner of our eye, feel a label in our shirt itching in our neck, or smell dinner that is being cooked in the kitchen, for instance.

To continue to pay attention we therefore need the ability to ignore certain sensory input. Our brain will receive all these signals from the outside world, but we will rely on the sensory processing in our brain to divert all non-important information away from our conscious awareness in order to continue to pay attention to what is important.

Subconscious sensory processing lies at the heart of our ability to concentrate. An important element of this sensory processing is directional information. We use our two ears and our two eyes to determine where a signal comes from. If we can separate the sound and gestures coming from the teacher in front of us, from the distracting sounds and movements coming from the left or right from us, for instance, then our brain is in a position to pay attention to the teacher and ignore all other input.

Concentration is our ability to ignore sensory input
that is unrelated to what we are paying attention to.

The brain has to learn how to do this. A newborn baby reacts to anything that happens around it, as it can not yet separate all that sensory input into separate streams of information. But after a few years the infant will normally have fine-tuned it’s sensory processing and be better able to concentrate for longer periods of time. For a two year old that may only be a few minutes, while later on in life, we probably can stretch that to, say, half-an-hour.

It is rare to be able to fully concentrate for much longer, though, and most people will need a short period of rest, before returning to full concentration. A physical stretch, a yawn, a gentle rub of the eyes, a drink or a snack, can all provide this short rest to the (sensory processing) system.

It is possible to train the brain to be less distracted and have longer spells of concentration. SAS specializes in this area as witnessed by many clients that reported an average improvement of 52.0 % in attention after taking a SAS programme. You can find more client feedback on the SAS Centre website under SAS Statistics – Client Profile and Feedback.

In the next post: Making connections.

Seven essential learning steps – Attention

Yesterday I wrote about the seven essential learning steps:

  1. Attention.
  2. Concentration.
  3. Connections.
  4. Understanding.
  5. Remembering.
  6. Recalling.
  7. Expression.

Starting today, I will tell you more about each of these essential stepping stones to success.

1. Attention.

You will find much information on attention and attention deficit on this blog, but to make things easy, I’ll re-publish a post I made on 9th May 2013 and then add some more to that.

Traditionally attention deficit is described as a condition where a person:

  • is easily distracted, misses details, forgets things, and frequently switches from one activity to another;
  • has difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task;
  • does not seem to listen when spoken to or daydreams;
  • has difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others;
  • struggles to follow instructions.

These descriptions and the word “deficit” all indicate that something is missing, such as attention, concentration and focus. However the underlying cause of attention deficit may be something quite different.

The real cause may be that if we pay attention to too many things, we can’t pay attention to what is really important. The cause is thus not a deficit, but an overload.

SAS Centre processingA key function of the brain – maybe even the most important task of the cognitive brain – is to delete input, simplify situations and ignore information in order to retain input, understand situations and pay attention to information.

Our senses send about 11 million bits of information to our brain each and every second of the day. But we can only pay attention to a tiny bit of this, well below 100 bits per second. So we need to delete, filter, simplify and ignore more than 99.999 % of all the input we receive through our senses (eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste, balance) in order to pay attention to what is important.

If we do not delete, filter or ignore enough of this constant input from our senses, we will get overloaded with information, leading to the classical signs of attention deficit. In more severe cases this may even lead to autistic-like behaviour.

Attention Deficit, ADD or ADHD
is our inability to not pay attention
to what is not important.

If we can only pay attention to a tiny bit of all the information that comes in, does that mean that all the rest simply gets deleted and is of no use? Not quite, as our brain processes a lot of information subconsciously, without us ever become aware of it. Our brain uses this ‘under the radar’ information to regulate our breathing and heart rate, adrenaline and sweat production, and many other bodily functions. But it also uses this subconscious flow of input to prepare us for decisions that we will make consciously. All the hard work is done in the background, subconsciously, and our conscious awareness is then presented with a simple choice of action, a yes/no decision.

Much learning depends on this subconscious flow of information, but it does help if we can pay attention to the subject matter, and stay focussed for a longer period of time. Fortunately it is possible to learn to be better at this task of deleting, filtering and ignoring, using sophisticated brain training techniques. SAS has developed programmes that help to instil permanent better ways of processing. Attention deficit and sensory overload can be effectively tackled for most.

In the next blog we’ll look in more depth at Concentration – paying attention for longer periods of time.

5 Important causes of attention deficit

Article by Steven Michaëlis, published in the May 2009 issue of Genç Gelişim.

When considering the attention and concentration difficulties it is useful to observe what the child can do, rather than to immediately focus on what the child cannot do. Often the child can concentrate on a certain task under certain circumstances, but fails to do so in school or when required to do homework.

Many school aged children, especially young ones, find it difficult to pay attention and hold concentration. This will obviously limit their academic achievement and can also lead to lower self esteem and possibly behavioral, emotional and social difficulties. It is easy to attach the ‘ADHD’ label to children like this and prescribe medication. Certain medication can help in counteracting some of the symptoms of ADHD, but as yet they do not tackle or cure the underlying causes. Any non-invasive and drug-free alternatives to improve attention and concentration must therefore be worth further investigation. Fortunately there are well documented methods that have proven their worth with many millions of children throughout the world and I will summarize some of these in this short article.

It is important to separate the hyperactivity element from the attention difficulty. If children have a constant need to move, a key indicator of hyperactivity, then obviously attention will suffer too. But the vast majority of children have this only to a limited extend and should not be labeled as being hyperactive so readily. When considering the attention and concentration difficulties it is useful to observe what the child can do, rather than to immediately focus on what the child cannot do. Often the child can concentrate on a certain task under certain circumstances, but fails to do so in school or when required to do homework. This indicates that the child has the ability to pay attention, but gets distracted in some way or another. These distractions can be caused by a number of underlying conditions, such as retained childhood reflexes, over or under sensitivity of one or more of the senses or ineffective processing in the brain.

That childhood reflexes can have a great influence on how children develop and learn is still rarely acknowledged, but there is a great deal of evidence that reflexes that have not matured will impact on speech development, reading, writing, attention and concentration. For instance, if the baby grasp reflex fails to recede, than this will impact on the fine motor skills of the hand and often lead to poor writing skills.

Physical distraction and a need to twist and turn when sitting on a chair is often linked to the birth reflex that directs babies to twist during the birth process. This reflex is essential to ensure a baby is able to navigate the narrow birth canal, twisting the hips and shoulders to avoid getting stuck between the mother’s hip bones. After birth there is no further use for this reflex and normally it recedes in the early months after birth. However, if it remains in sufficient intensity later on, it can cause a child to literally feel the need to twist and turn, affecting attention and concentration.

Almost all learning takes places through interaction with the senses and in particular by speech through the hearing and by visual interaction through the eyes. If these key senses do not operate effectively, then learning will be compromised and attention deficit or hyperactivity can often be experienced as a side-effect. Ineffective hearing or vision does not necessarily mean hearing loss or the need to wear glasses. In these children often the sensors (the ears and eyes) work sufficiently well, but how the signal from the ears and eyes is processed in the brain may cause difficulties. If the hearing is better than normal (hyper-sensitive hearing) than children often start to block-out these unpleasant or even painful sounds, leading to a lack of contact with the world around them.

It is also critical that the eyes work effectively together as a team, which requires well developed eye muscles, good coordination and balance, and the ability to focus the eyes both nearby and far away. If any of this fails then the signals from the two eyes received by the brain may not match up with each other, leading to confusion, delayed processing or even a distorted view. More effective visual processing often can overcome some of these obstacles.

An often forgotten element in learning is our sense of balance. It forms part of the inner-ear and plays an important role in our posture, in how we move, but also how we perceive the world around us and it plays a critical role in directing our eyes in follow a line of writing. The need to constantly move about is also often linked to an under-sensitive sense of balance.

So we see that there are a number of diverse reasons why children may be distracted from paying attention and concentrating on the task at hand. Fortunately it is possible to mature childhood reflexes and to retrain the brain to process sensory information more effectively. Simple exercises and non-invasive intervention techniques exists that can make the difference between failure and success at school and that lead to a happier and better adjusted child.

Attention Distraction Disposition (ADD)

I’ve written quite a bit about Attention. For the many people who are diagnosed with either Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I propose a different viewpoint, please read my recent post: “Surprising facts about Attention Deficit and ADHD“.

It is possible to train the brain to filter information more effectively and reduce the effects of ADD and ADHD. You’ll find more information on the SAS Centre website:


Taking exams – part Three

Follow the DEER method to prepare for study, revision and exams. DEER stands for Drink Eat Exercise Relax.

Step 1: Drink

Did you know that women are made up of approximately 45% water, while men are made up of about 60% water? A drop of only a few per cent in our water balance and our brain and bodies will stop functioning efficiently.

Dehydration leads to headaches, poor learning and thus poor performance. It can also make you feel bored, listless or drowsy. A healthy regular intake of water improves performance – drink about one and a half litres of water a day. Cut down on coffee, tea and fizzy drinks as they act as diuretics. Caffeine can also destroy Vitamin B in your body.

Step 2: Eat

Eat regularly, especially when revising, by having a healthy snack every two hours. Fruit or complex carbohydrates are ideal.

Do not skip meals, put yourself on a strict diet or leave too long between meals as this can cause agitation, irritability, loss of concentration and decreased alertness.

Step 3: Exercise
brain exercise
Exercise during the exam period can burn up stress chemicals and get rid of unwanted physical nervous energy, it increases the oxygen supply to the brain, encourages the production of endorphins (the body’s natural tranquillisers) and increases calming brain wave patterns. It also gets rid of muscle tension and helps to dissipate feelings of frustration. When we are fit we feel good about ourselves and this increases our self-confidence.

Step 4: Relax

You cannot be tense and relaxed at the same time, so learning to relax will automatically defeat feelings of anxiety and tenseness

Taking 15 minutes of peaceful, uninterrupted mental relaxation can reduce stress, boost energy, help concentration and keep you calm through the day. When revising always give yourself some time to relax before going to bed.

Use relaxation CD’s, listen to gentle music, meditate, use breathing exercises, or use humour to relax you – watch a comedy show.

Improving attention and concentration at home

I’ve written quite a bit about the possible underlying causes to attention deficit, lack of concentration and distractability. But what can you do at home, as a parent or as a more mature student yourself, to pay more attention and stay focussed whilst studying at home.
SAS elastic band
There is no magic bullet that will solve everything in one go, but there are some steps you can take that might well work for you. Remember, if what you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked, then it’s time to try something different – and if that doesn’t work, try something different yet again. There will be a solution that will substantially improve the situation, but it may not be the first thing you’ll try.

After struggling to develop a viable electric light bulb for months and months, Thomas Edison was interviewed by a young reporter who boldly asked Mr. Edison if he felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up by now. Perplexed, Edison replied, “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” And shortly after that, and over 10,000 attempts, Edison invented the light bulb.

For starters try some of these hints and tips:

  • Study or work in a quiet room, facing a blank wall – minimising sounds and visual clutter helps the brain to focus.
  • Vary the type of study or work – create a mix of reading, writing, internet research and use mind-maps.
  • Break study or work time up in chunks of about 20 minutes, going for a short walk or having a drink or bite to eat in between.
  • Use fidget objects or modelling clay to keep a hand busy and divert excess energy.
  • Allow study or work to be done whilst standing up or walking about.
  • Give deep hugs or gentle massage to calm the body and mind.
  • Make “To do” lists to stay focussed and on track.

Do you have exams coming up? Then keep an eye on this blog as I’ll be posting hints and tips for both revising and exam taking soon.

Test yourself: your dominant ear

In my last posting on Attention and Distraction I hinted that sticking your finger in your ear can tell you more about how you hear and process sounds. It can demonstrate how you get easily distracted, but it also can tell you something about how you process language and produce speech.

So let’s start again. Being in a situation where you are listening to a person, put your right finger into your right ear (as shown by our left side Obama twins), and notice how easy, or difficult, it is to continue following the conversation. Now reverse the ears, or rather reverse the fingers, by putting your left finger in your left ear and notice how easy, or difficult, it is to continue following the conversation.

Obama Right and Left EarThe difference may be negligible for you, or it can be more pronounced. If it is small and you can easily follow the conversation with either ear closed, great, you’re doing well. For many people following the conversation with the left ear closed will be easier than with the right ear closed. This is because most people process language in the left side of the brain and sounds from the right ear go directly to that left side, while sounds from the left ear go to the right side of the brain that doesn’t understand language.

So how come we can still understand language with our right ear closed? Good question. Well, in our brain the two sides do communicate with each other and language that is received by the language dumb right side, gets transferred through the Corpus Callosum the the language savvy left side. But this transfer takes time and if it’s a bit slower than usual, it may lead to a reduction in processing speed and thus language understanding.

If it’s easier for you to follow a conversation with your right ear closed, and you’re thus listening with your left ear only, then you are probably left-ear dominant. That is absolutely fine if you have no language or speech problems. I, myself, are strongly left ear dominant, but I seem to manage very well in both my understanding of language and being able to speak fluently. For some, however, left-ear dominance combined with a slower than usual inter-hemispheric transfer speed can cause speech and language difficulties. This can be slower understanding, difficulties with multiple instructions, memory problems or speech impediments such as unclear speech or stuttering / stammering.

Our research focus is very much on this area of ear dominance, auditory processing and inter-hemispheric coordination and transfer. Our quest is to find long lasting, effective and practical ways to improve this processing in the brain – hence the birth of the SAS methodology. Below I reproduce some sections of the SAS for scientists and scholars posting that provides the scientific underpinning to our methodology.

Right ear advantage for language processing may be caused by several interacting factors. The left hemisphere, especially for right-handed individuals, is specialised in language processing. Kimura postulated that auditory input delivered to the left ear, which is sent along the ipsilateral auditory pathways, is suppressed by the information coming from the right ear. Input to the left ear, which first reaches the contralateral right hemisphere, must be transferred via the corpus collosum to the left hemisphere where the language processing areas are located. The transfer of linguistic information from the right hemisphere to the left hemisphere results in a slight delay in processing. No such transfer delay is found for the right ear, thereby favouring the right ear for speech processing. [Kimura, D. (1961), Cerebral dominance and the perception of visual stimuli, Canadian Journal of Psychology, 15(3), 166-177].

There is evidence of differences in linguistic processing between people who stutter and people who do not stutter. [Ward, D. (2006), Stuttering and Cluttering: Frameworks for understanding treatment, Hove and New York City: Psychology Press].

Brain scans of adult people who stutter have found increased activation of the right hemisphere, which is associated with emotions, than in the left hemisphere, which is associated with speech. In addition reduced activation in the left auditory cortex has been observed. [Gordon, N. (2002), Stuttering: incidence and causes. Developmental medicine and child neurology, 44 (4): 278–81] [Guitar, B. (2005), Stuttering: An Integrated Approach to Its Nature and Treatment, San Diego: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins].

Test yourself: attention and distraction

In my last post about Attention Deficit and ADHD I indicated that a lack of attention may be caused by paying too much attention to too many (other distracting) things.

Take the famous ‘Finger in Ear’ test

Obama's right earIf it’s not the test that is famous, than at least the person demonstrating it is. This is such a simple way to demonstrate the importance of efficient processing in both hemispheres of the brain, that everyone should take this short test. The test takes less time than reading these instructions and it’s also great if you want to show off your knowledge at a party.

It’s not just an interesting experience, but it shows us how we need both our ears, and the auditory processing in both sides of the brain, in order to pay attention, or more accurately, in order to filter out what is not important – the sounds that may distract us.

So here we go! When you are in a situation where you are listening to a person and when there is some, or a lot, of background noise, put your right finger into your right ear (as demonstrated above by our willing volunteer), and notice how easy, or difficult, it is to continue following the conversation. You may notice that the background noise becomes much louder and that you have to concentrate harder on what’s being said. Listening with both ears will allow your brain to filter out surrounding sounds much better than when just using one ear. We need the (stereo) signal from both ears to calculate where a sound comes from and we can only calculate that and start filtering out distracting sounds, if both hemispheres of our brain are communicating fast and effectively with each other.

There are other uses for this test too, but more about that in later posts. For now, take your finger out of your ear, get a pair of headphones and take the SAS distraction test.

The SAS distraction test

This easy to apply on-line Auditory Distraction Screening Test, exclusively developed by Sensory Activation Solutions, can help you assess how well you cope in a noisy environment, such as a classroom, open office or café. Auditory distraction and so-called Cocktail Party Syndrome can impact on learning, achievement, behaviour and emotional state. Listen to this test through a pair of ear or headphones. To go to the test on the SAS website, either click here, or click on the image below.

SAS Auditory Distraction Screening Test

Click on image to go to the SAS Auditory Distraction Screening Test