Attention is a cognitive process which allows a child to focus his or her thinking on one thing and ignore others. Together, different types of attention (e.g. focused attention, divided attention, sustained attention) allow a student to be alert and focused, concentrate on something, resist distractions in the environment and sustain their effort over time. Children with attention difficulties may be easily distracted, lose their train of thought, have difficulties sitting still, miss instructions presented to them and have problems working on things for more than a short period of time.
In the classroom, attention difficulties can negatively impact a child’s ability to consistently and efficiently take-in, process and learn information. Difficulties in attention can also contribute to difficulties in more complex cognitive skills (e.g. working memory) as these higher-level skills rely on a good ability to direct, focus and sustain attention. If a child is displaying cognitive, learning or behavioural difficulties, assessment of attention is important to ascertain whether attention difficulties are contributing to the child’s presentation. Assessment of attention will often include a range of assessment tasks, behavioural observations and parent/teacher questionnaires. If attention difficulties are identified, recommendations can be made to help reduce demands on the child’s attentional resources at home and school.