Concentrating on school success

Research finds new approach necessary for kids with attention problems

Date published: 2011-10-25 12:00:00 PM

Children who have problems paying attention in class are more likely to drop out of school than hyperactive kids, according to a recent study at the Université de Montréal.

The study, which followed some 2,000 Quebec children over 20 years, found that only 29 per cent of children with attention problems in elementary school completed their secondary education, compared to 89 per cent of their classmates. Unlike hyperactive children, who find it hard to sit still, children with attention problems do not disturb the class and, as a result, are often overlooked. This difference remained significant even when hyperactivity and other psychological or social variables were taken into account, such as anxiety or parents’ education levels.

“Attention problems were assessed by the teachers, who are in a good position to identify inattentive children,” says Jean-Baptiste Pingault, the study’s main researcher and author. During the first phase of the study, the children’s ability to pay attention was evaluated once before they started school, and then once a year for all six years of elementary. The second phase of the research consisted of tracking the participants once they had reached adulthood in order to verify their education level.

“Clearly, we need to pay more attention to this issue,” says Pingault, who believes that schools must intervene at the elementary school level to help these students succeed.

“Various activities can help children improve their ability to concentrate,” he explains. Some are easy, such as walking on a line or using symbols (for example, using an ear to indicate that it is time to listen), while others are more sophisticated, such as learning a martial art or musical instrument.

Thanks to research like Pingault’s, children with these problems are finally receiving the attention they deserve. Mental health experts are now considering adding a new definition to the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—an essential reference book for doctors, psychologists and counsellors—that addresses attention problems not linked to hyperactivity, or even creating a sub-type of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with limited hyperactivity.

“Creating a label that is independent of hyperactivity might lead to more targeted interventions,” says Pingault, “and help more children with attention problems succeed at school.”