Popular articles are identifying up to twenty percent of our school-age population as having school problems associated with attention. Only four to five percent of the school-aged children actually have attention deficit disorders. The rest of this group is experiencing challenges with learning or other stressors which are causing them to have attention focus problems in school.

There are many reasons for children to be off-task in their learning behavior. These include medical problems, diet and allergic reaction or intolerance to foods. Some children have difficulty with their neurological processing systems such as memory, perception or auditory discrimination. Sometimes inattention is related to stressors in a child’s life like divorce, loss of significant person (or pet), money problems and all of the other conflicts distressing our families today.

Over the last twenty-five years we have observed the school requirements increasing. The tasks required of students in the elementary years are significantly more difficult today than they were even seven years ago and create stress in learning which many not be necessary. Our society has responded first to the “Sputnik era” in which we increased the technical requirements in math and sciences to compete with the Russian expertise. More recently we are competing with the Japanese school system. We are asking children to write reports and do hours of homework even in the first three grades. This pressure is creating havoc for the learner who would have survived happily in school in past years but is not mature in his/her learning skills at any early age to cope with the volume of work that is being required.

Significant numbers of children are referred to pediatricians for attention evaluations because demands are being placed on them that are too great. The children are reacting with inattention associated with fatigue, exhaustion and frustration.

Children who are very bright and children who are slow in processing often appear to have attention problems. Both are probably bored, if for different reasons. For the bright child the repetitive nature of classroom instruction is often frustrating. For the child with intellectual insufficiencies the pace is too rapid and leaves them behind. When children are bored they frequently exhibit attention problems.

Assessment procedures can identify children who are experiencing attention deficit disorders from children who have other attention problems. There are many “attention sensitive” subtests in the batteries commonly used to assess children’s skills. For instance, in the Weschsler Intelligence Scale for Children there are several subtests like – Digit Span, Coding and Arithmetic which are stressed by attention problems. The Detroit Test of Learning aptitudes has several subtests which measure attention skills, memory instruments like the Receptive Expressive Observation can identify attention tasks.

One of the most common means of measuring attention is through a behavior rating scale which is completed by parents (home behavior) and teacher/s (school behavior). The information on these scales are sensitive to changes in the child’s behavior in learning and non-learning settings. They are, therefore, used to compare the child’s behavior, and to monitor changes after the child is provided with help.

In order to identify the child with attention deficit disorder compared to other attention difficulties a thorough assessment should be completed. In addition to the previously mentioned assessment procedures the Test of Variable Attention (TOVA) is also used to provide for more finite discrimination. The instrument is especially effective when used in combination with assessments, behavior rating scales and interviews to identify attention deficit disorders. It may also provide assistance for pediatricians in predicting whether medication will be efficacious, provide guidance in identifying appropriate medication dosages and in monitoring medical treatment on a regular basis.

It is important to understand that not all children require medication in order to treat their attention needs. The most common assistance for children is modification of the environments in which they are having their difficulty. If it is in the school and home then both will need to work together to provide behavior modification assistance for the child. Students often benefit from reduced distractions in their learning situations (both visual and auditory), short study periods, use of timers to keep their attention focused, one to one assistance and monitoring support. They need short verbal instructions and structured, consistent learning and living situations. They may also benefit from learning coping techniques and self-esteem boosters.

The Learning Center specializes in providing a full Attention Assessment including the TOVA and Attention Training for students. The attention training program has been very effective in teaching students how to control their attention focus. They learn to stay on task, complete work and use their learning skills for school success. The programming includes parent training to assist parents in establishing structure and support for their children. Whether students have an attention deficit disorder or are experiencing attention focus problems it can be identified through an Attention Assessment. Programming is successful for children with attention deficit disorders and attention focus confusion.

Written by Joan Smith EdD

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