Babies have the natural ability to shift the focus of their attention. The shift can be from one object to another, or one sense to another or even from focusing internally to focusing externally. Internal focus gives them the ability to gather information about how they experience and feel an action. External focus gives them information about the environment, whether it is the surface they are on, mom’s face, or the music they hear. Being able to shift attention is imperative for learning. Enhancing this skill is a big component of Anat Baniel Method or Feldenkrais work. Learning increases exponentially with increased ability to focus on how it “felt” to do something. It’s important to focus long enough to notice the details which will make it possible to create the experience again.
Many children with special needs have a disruption in their ability to shift attention. What we think of as multi-tasking is the ability to very quickly shift between more than one thing. If this process happens too quickly a child won’t dwell long enough to take in enough information to process and learn as in attention deficit disorder. If it does not happen enough children will not be aware of anything except for what they are intensely focused on. A child with autism might not be able to shift attention away from a toy, or a baby with internal discomfort might not be able to shift to receiving external information from the world around them.
A healthy brain will be able to prioritize incoming information, to choose which things to attend to in the moment. When you drive down the road, if you spent as much time seeing the flowers and the houses going by as you do the road you wouldn’t last long. You pay attention to the cars around you, signs and signals and the roadway as a priority. The ability to prioritize is one of the things that can deteriorate with age and which is missing in Autism and Autism Spectrum disorders. Brains can improve this skill through improving the timing of shifting attention, and through noticing greater distinctions. Dr. Merzenich’s computer programs for adults and children create that experience. So do ABM practitioners.
Here’s a video that intrigues me. In 2 minutes you can see 4 hrs of baby activity. Notice how frequently this child shifts attention. The world is explored with hands, feet, mouth and body. Toys are not the only experience. Watch how the chair, the cardboard box, the shelves even the wall are part of his experience.