By Valerie Maxwell Ph.D.
What does the Factors of Attention mean? The area of the brain known as the pre-frontal cortex takes responsibility for the “executive functioning” of the brain. This is the “thinking brain” which must make decisions, keep track of time, assimilate what is being told, seen or taught, and organize information with prioritization in order to be processed by the brain. This is how we “think about our thinking” so we can function efficiently in the world. Efficiency in our lives helps to create happiness in ourselves and respect from others.
In order to fulfill these executive functions, the brain must have accurate input. Paying attention to what is seen, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted is the way the brain receives this input. According to experts (Reid Lyon) there are 5 parts of paying attention:
- FOCUSED OR SELECTIVE ATTENTION: We need to be able to select the most important information and to ignore the input that is not needed at that time. For example, listening to the teacher’s directions and ignoring a friend kicking your chair is vital to success.
- SUSTAINING ATTENTION: Maintaining awareness is essential to helping us focus on our goal or task. Sustained attention is critical to completing the job, whether that is homework or cleaning your room.
- SHIFTING ATTENTION: Flexibility of attention is key to our ability to change, to grow, and to multitask so that we get everything done that we need to do. Playing Nintendo for 20 minutes and then getting back to the homework is not possible without this flexibility.
- ATTENTION FOR ACTION: We need to be able to route the input to the appropriate brain sites in order to put all the information together so that it comes out at the right time, in the right order, and in socially appropriate ways. This function involves SEQUENCING and PROCESSING the information.
- DIVIDED ATTENTION: Being able to attend to several things at the same time without getting distracted is key to keeping all the balls in the air that modern life demands of us. The child must remember his study-buddy’s phone number, focus on his internet project, and listen with acknowledgement to his mother asking him to call his father in for dinner.
“Although there is a solid core of scientific evidence indicating that speaking and listening have a biological foundation, the human capacity for reading and writing does not.” (Maureen Argus, The ADHD Challenge, March/April 2000). In order for a child to speak, read, listen to the teachers, or write, that child must have developed the ability to pay attention in all ways. Children with ADHD and many with learning disabilities related to cognitive deficiencies have attentional problems. Without proper attention, reading and writing cannot be assumed.
There are 5 senses (i.e., hearing, vision, touch, smell, and taste) that need to be in attention at all times. However, most often in school the child must rely on her ability to hear and see. When we talk about a child’s auditory or visual processing skills, we are talking about a child’s ability to use all of the above 5 attention functions in order to understand, think critically, and to produce results. This is processing.
Getting all the input out (whether it’s on paper or in an oral report) is not enough. The output must be in the right order. This is sequencing.
Dr. Valerie Maxwell is a clinical Psychologist in Manhattan Beach, CA and a frequent speaker at CHADD meetings in Southern California.