Babies and toddlers are well-known to be active and not wanting to sit still for too long. But they should be able to focus on activities progressively longer as they approach their 2nd birthday.
My 18-month old son can sit 10 minutes looking through a basket of "gadgets", 5 minutes looking at a simple book or rolling/bouncing a ball with someone else or himself, and about 15 minutes watching an Elmo (R) video before he starts wondering around. If he is interested in a manipulative toy, he may sit there for quite a while and figure it out, take it apart, then put it back together. But overall, he is "all boy" preferring to run, climb, and just tinker around. I definately have to be careful leaving the room for too long (e.g. like to go to the bathroom), or I'll come back to find him standing on the dining room table! This morning he spilled his Dad's cold cup of coffee all over the floor...thank goodness for the steam vacuum! We didn't know he could reach that high, but apparently he can...so glad, it wasn't a freshly brewed, steaming hot cup of coffee! It's not that I wasn't watching him, but I had only briefly turned around. Man, are toddlers quick!
Toddlers with special needs or developmental delays often have even shorter of an attention span and ability to focus than their peers who are typically developing. Below are some strategies to improve their ability to focus during play time:
1. Declutter the room by putting toys in containers, baskets, and the toy box. Leave out the larger toys and a few of the favorite toys though. My experience is that if there is too much out on the floor or the room is "chaotic", then the child will walk past the toys or be too overwhelmed to know what to pick out. When children don't interact with the toy and aim around aimlessly they may get destructive; at the very least, they are not spending time gaining important developmental skills. Now keep in mind, there are some children who are the opposite, they are too passive, and in that case, leave more toys sitting around, but not messy! If toys aren't out, these children won't going exploring and prefer to just sit there.
2. If the child is visually overwhelmed easily, then have play time in a room with less furniture and "things", such as in a spare bed room.
3. Make sure the child is getting lots of opportunities for gross-motor play, so that he will then focus for toys that require him to sit or stand still such as books, puzzles, train table, block stacking, etc. Indoor gross-motor play ideas include: rocking horse, tunnel, mini-trampoline, pulling wagon full of toys, and bouncing on exercise ball. Outdoor gross-motor play ideas are endless including riding a tricycle, swing, slide, and kicking a ball.
4. Provide toys that aren't too simple but aren't too difficult. Toys that can be played with in more than one may increase the chance that the child will play with it longer. Store "baby" toys out of sight!
5. Get on the floor and play with the child! If the child has limited play skills, then teach him how to play! That way, when you need an extra moment in the kitchen or bathroom, the child will know how to play with himself for a longer amount of time.
Now, go ahead, go play!