Investigating sustained and divided attention (and its correlates) in school children

Difficulties with attention are known to have knock-on consequences for social, behavioural and motoric development. Meanwhile, the exact symptoms experienced by children with developmental difficulties often vary greatly within and between individuals, meaning they meet the criteria for diagnosis with more than one specific disorder.  For example, it is not uncommon for a child experiencing difficulties to be eligible simultaneously for a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Consequently it has been suggested that a core attention deficit might help explain why these neurodevelopmental disorders often co-occur. To test this theory a reliable psychometric test capable of objectively measuring children’s attentive performance is required, which can practically be used with large numbers of students within their classrooms.

We are developing such a tool and will use it to assess attentive functioning in a large, all-abilities sample of primary school-aged children involved in the Born in Bradford study. We will then link children’s performance on this new computerised Attention task with information being collected by BiB regarding the participant’s mental-health, academic performance and demographic backgrounds.  We will use this data to look at (1) what early life factors predict children’s attentiveness and (2) what outcomes attentiveness goes on to predict in later years (e.g. ASD, DCD and/or ADHD diagnoses; academic performance). Overall, the research will aim to discover whether a general deficit in core attention skills can help explain why children with a neurodevelopmental disorder (such as ADHD) often have difficulties across many domains (e.g. social, motor, behaviour).  The Attention test, once it is fully developed, also has the potential to be a useful tool for detecting children with developmental disorders at an early age; allowing for timely support and intervention.