Distracted Now, Pay Later

Children experience many phases and changes during their school years, and its tempting to think they will grow out of most of their difficult phases. But a new study shows that children with early attention problems are at risk for worse academic outcomes in high school.

This study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, reveals how inattention during early childhood causes children to miss vital information upon which later learning is built. Children who do not learn basic academic skills such as mathematics, literacy, and handwriting skills may struggle to learn the more advanced concepts.

Early Attention Problems

In the study, researchers examined more than 11,000 children as part of a longitudinal, population-based study at the University of Bristol beginning in the early 90s. For the purpose of this study, the researchers analyzed the questionnaires when the children were 7 years old to asses a variety of behaviors including inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity, and defiant problems. This information was compared with the children’s academic achievements when they were 16 years old.

Lasting Effects

The researchers found that increased inattention and distractibility symptoms in childhood were significantly correlated with worse academic outcomes by the time the children reached high school. The researchers also found that in boys, oppositional and defiant behaviors at age seven were an independent risk to academic achievement. 

Sooner is Better

Taken together, the researchers suggest that sooner is better: prevention and intervention strategies during early childhood for children at all severity levels of inattention are key to helping children minimize distractions and learn basic academic skills. Establishing a solid foundation in mathematics and literacy skills will help reduce feelings of frustration and embarrassment that some struggling learners may experience in the classroom.

StepUp Summary

Step Up integrates physical and cognitive exercises to help struggling learners master basic academic skills. We know that children who learn to automate basic skills such as reading, math, and handwriting are later able to master more advanced  concepts. Furthermore, StepUp exercises also address anticipation, which in turn leads to practicing sustained attention, a skill that is a struggle for children who are easily distracted.

To practice sustained attention, at home or in the classroom:

  • play memory games, like card matching
  • concentration games, like I-Spy
  • encourage physical play, like bouncing a ball
  • practice jumping jacks (add rhymes or counting for extra learning!)