Updated 14 June 2017

Early attention problem forms pattern

Children who begin primary school with attention problems are likely to have poorer academic achievement scores through high school, study findings suggest.


Children who begin primary school with attention problems are likely to have poorer academic achievement scores through high school, study findings suggest.

Previous research linked poorer academic achievement through the end of primary school, when children are about 11 or 12 years old, to attention problems such as difficulty concentrating, sitting still, and completing tasks when younger, Dr. Joshua Breslau and colleagues note.

The current study shows "this pattern persists through the end of high school," Breslau, of the University of California, Davis, told Reuters Health.

Breslau and colleagues gathered IQ and behavioral data from 693 ethnically diverse children who were entering school at 6-years old. Forty-seven percent of the students were male, the investigators report in the journal Pediatrics.

When the students were 17-years old and had reached the end of high school, the investigators assessed their scores on reading and math achievement tests.

Analyses to determine the impact of earlier behavior problems on later academic achievement showed that attention problems, signs of withdrawal, anxiety, or depression, or displaying aggressive or delinquent behaviors when entering school at age 6 were all associated with lower achievement in high school.

Having one of these behavior problems "means that a kid is more likely to have one or both of the others," Breslau explained.

However, when the researchers examined all three behavior problems together they found only the attention problems accounted for lower achievement scores in reading and math, suggesting that later problems with achievement can be predicted by early attention problems.

"Attention problems that can have adverse academic consequences are identifiable early on," Breslau concluded. He therefore suggests parents "consider their child's attention skills as they plan their educational strategy."

(SOURCE: Pediatrics, June 2009)

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Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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