Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Newly researched attention deficit may affect learning in the classroom

A new attention disorder?

A recent study conducted by Imran Dhamani and team of Macquarie University has identified an attention difficulty which may affect as many as 1 in 2 children in a classroom - and it's not ADHD.

The study involved 20 children aged 10 to 18 years who had been identified as having difficulties listening in the classroom. Dhanamin asked them to identify target words/syllables while being distracted by background noise. Recordings were made of the time it took them to switch their attention to the target information as it changed positions in a sequence. These children took much longer to switch their attention than children with no listening difficulties.

This is different from the attention deficit present in children with ADHD, whose main difficulty is with sustaining or focusing their attention over time. It's a subtle but important difference.

Different types of attention

Research has shown attention to be a multidimensional construct. Based on Poser and Petersen (1990)’s work and a review of the literature, Robertson and colleagues (1996) outlined a theory of attention comprising three main components. These are:

  • sustained attention, or the ability to keep one’s mind on the job over a period of time
  • attentional switching, ability to switch focus of attention smoothly between tasks and to handle competing stimuli without being distracted; and
  • selective attention, being ability to discriminate from unimportant important information.

While children with ADHD have difficulty with the first attention type and will become restless and distracted or 'zone out' when asked to focus, the main issue for the children in the current study is the second type of attention. As they are unable to switch their attention rapidly and smoothly, they may miss vital information, particularly in the noisy and dynamic classroom environment. When class noise levels are high and there are many conversations to switch between, such children can fail to understand instructions, perform badly in subjects and become the "black sheep" of the class, according to Dhanamin.

Further research is needed to investigate this condition and help to devise treatment programs.

Neuropsychologists are specially trained to understand various aspects of cognitive functioning, including different aspects of attention, and to be able to differentially diagnose conditions such as ADHD and other attention disorders. We have tools to examine all aspects of cognition and well trained professionals able to interpret the outcomes of our testing and to provide recommendations to assist.

Contact us at ANTS today to find out more.

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