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Janette Atkinson, Oliver Braddick, Kate Breckenridge; Components of attention in normal and atypical development. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):492. doi: 10.1167/10.7.492.
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Neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies of attention indicate that the human brain contains distinct networks for selective attention, sustained attention, and attentional (executive function = EF). However, attention test batteries designed to analyse these separate attention functions have not hitherto been available for developmental ages less than about 6 years.
We have designed, pilot-tested, and validated an Early Childhood Attention Battery (ECAB) whose subtests can be understood by children aged between 3-6 years. Normative data on 156 children in this age range showed that a three factor model based on the hypothesised distinct attention networks fitted the data well for children over 4.5 years, but younger children's data was equally well fit by a two factor model with substantial cross-loading. These results suggest that the differentiation of attention networks emerges over the tested age range, perhaps because more general constraints limit performance in the younger children.
We have used the ECAB to analyse and compare groups of 32 children each with two developmental disorders showing distinct cognitive profiles, Williams Syndrome (WS) and Down Syndrome (DS), with developmental ages too low for other attention tests (e.g. TEA-Ch). In relation to test norms for their mental age, the results provide evidence for syndrome-specific patterns of impairment. Both syndrome groups performed relatively well on tests of sustained attention and poorly on aspects of selective attention and EF. The DS group showed a specific strength in auditory sustained attention, whilst the WS group showed a particular deficit in visuo-spatial EF tasks.
We discuss these results in relation to the interaction of attention mechanisms with the dorsal cortical stream, neuroimaging [Meyer-Lindenberg et al, Neuron, 2004] and behavioural [Atkinson et al, NeuroReport 1997; Dev Neuropsychol, 2003] evidence for dorsal stream deficits in WS, and consider how they relate to the broader concept of “dorsal stream vulnerability” in developmental disorders.
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