The Problem With Paying Attention

I don’t have any particular issue with eye contact. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable to make eye contact with someone, and I will generally do it automatically at the beginning of a conversation or lesson at school. It is sustaining eye contact where I sometimes run into issues. I blame this mostly on other visual stimuli.  A conversation might go something like this:

*makes eye contact*

*listens to what person is saying for approximately 20 seconds*

SHINY THINGS!!!

*no longer making eye contact*

I will still likely be hearing and processing the conversation, though if the visual stimuli is extremely distracting then I might not be.

Other times though, especially at school, I will have trouble paying attention if I am looking at the speaker because I am so focused on trying to look at the speaker/sit still/pay attention. Trying to do this would look something like this in my brain:

“I’m paying attention! I’m making eye contact! I actually look like I’m taking in what the person is saying! I’m good at this! Wait, now I’m not paying attention. Pay attention! Sit still! Try to actually take in what the person is saying!”

“Wait, what on earth did the teacher just say?”

On the other hand, if I look at the table/my notebook/the shiny things, I am much more likely to take in whatever the person is saying because my mind is not occupied with telling myself to pay attention. So, one way that I can improve my focus is to not look at the person talking.

The other thing I sometimes do is lip-read. This is not particularly because of audio processing issues, but because I am then receiving constant visual stimuli that matches up with the auditory stimuli I am receiving. In other words, the stuff I’m seeing matches with the stuff I’m hearing, and I’m less likely to get distracted by other stuff I see.

So, to truly pay attention in school, I have to either not look at the teacher or look at them constantly. Both techniques have some disadvantages, though. Many people think that if a person is not making eye contact then they are not paying attention, which is clearly not true for me (and many other people) due to the reasons described above. However, the lip-reading technique makes it nearly impossible to take notes or look at visuals that the teacher is using such as a white board. I use both of these techniques in school, often interchangeably in a short period of time.

So, a message to all of my upcoming teachers: 1. Just because I’m not looking at you doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. 2. Just because I’m looking at you doesn’t mean I’m paying attention. 3. I’m not staring at your mouth because you have lettuce stuck in your teeth. 😉

I personally think society should lose the whole idea that eye contact is so important. I wish we had some other method of communicating the fact that we are listening, but I have no idea what that would be.

Anyone have ideas? Or have your own focus techniques? Share them in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “The Problem With Paying Attention

  1. Hi dreamer 🙂
    I really enjoy reading your blog posts…not only because you are a fantastic writer, but also because I am an occupational therapist who works with kids in schools who have SPD and posts like yours help me understand them better (especially the little ones who aren’t verbal). I always struggle with whether or not to enforce eye contact when I teach social skills or concepts like Whole Body Listening. It’s so complicated because social “norms” tell us that’s the appropriate thing to do and, therefore, teach. Thanks for sharing your experience. It would be neat if there was a way for teachers to know that students were paying attention without making eye contact.
    Jenn

    Liked by 1 person

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