“I can tell your attention is waning.”
“It just doesn’t hold my attention anymore.”
We hear phrases like these all the time, but rarely stop to think about how attention actually works.
What do we mean when we tell someone to pay attention to us? How can we tell they’re not paying attention? And what parts of the brain come into play when someone is (or isn’t) paying attention?
While these questions are very interesting to many of us, they’re especially so to parents with ADHD children. Plus, adults who have ADHD or other neurological differences will also find them relevant. After all, these underlying issues with attention contribute to so many of the challenges that pop up in the classroom and elsewhere.
Fortunately, although all of the exact neural mechanisms aren’t completely understood, researchers are beginning to make progress toward making sense of how attention works.
Why Being Able to Ignore Is Important
One important part of the brain’s ability to pay attention is its concurrent ability to ignore unrelated stimuli. In fact, being able to ignore competing sensory input is vital to be able to pay attention to something else.
Indeed, our brains are so good at ignoring irrelevant input that they can overlook even the most obvious, glaring intrusions when highly focused on something else.
As it turns out, researchers have gained valuable insight into how attention works in a recent experiment.
They’d long suspected that focusing on any one stimulus caused the brain to activate specific neural networks. The neural networks that were activated were the ones needed to properly perceive and interpret the stimuli focused upon.
At the same time, other neural networks were dampened, or turned down, so to speak. This way, they wouldn’t interrupt or interfere with the neural processing needed to understand the stimuli.
Problems with attention arise, though, when the non-necessary neural networks fail to quiet down.
Paying attention becomes much more difficult when the brain isn’t able to turn down the electrical signals produced by these neural networks. It’s like trying to have a conversation in a very loud, crowded restaurant. You may look at your friend’s face and know that they’re talking to you, but loud ambient music, clattering dishes, and chatter from neighboring tables makes it impossible to understand more than a word or two that your friend says.
This is what it’s like for the brain when non-necessary neurons keep chattering away when it’s trying to focus on something else. The brain is unable to accurately perceive and interpret the stimuli directly in front of it.
ADHD Has Neural Underpinnings
A very deep, complex neural system underlies our ability to pay attention. When we understand that the ability to pay attention is such a complex neurological ability, we gain more insight into how individuals with ADHD may differ from those without.
Indeed, understanding how attention works is an important part of being able to design appropriate individualized treatment for those who have ADHD. Many individuals with ADHD or similar challenges struggle to correctly perceive the stimuli their brain receives.
The beauty of the Tomatis approach is that it is designed to address the auditory processing system. Auditory processing plays a key role in the brain’s ability to perceive all the sensory messages it receives. Decades of research and experience using the Tomatis method have shown time and again that its unique approach can broach gaps in the brain’s ability to interpret stimuli.
Through sound training, individuals who struggle with attention are able to retrain their brain. With time, they can strengthen the neural networks required for better focus and attention.
If you or your child have difficulties with paying attention, please reach out to my office to learn more what intervention would be best suited for you or your child. You can read more about our intervention approaches for individuals diagnosed with AD/HD please follow the link to our ADHD Treatment page.