Is distraction internal or external?
A New study published in Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology finds that children with ADHD have minds that drift from the here and now. A wandering mind also had slower response times. While this is rather obvious, the study did reveal some useful and interesting new data.
The goal of the study was to determine if, in classroom or school environments, children with ADHD are more distracted by external or internal stimuli. Additionally, the researchers would investigate whether the introduction of methylphenidate (trade name Ritalin) would improve attention. The researchers indicated that previous research suggested that external distractions were a primary cause of off-task behavior for children with ADHD as opposed to internal distractions.
Participants in the study included 59 ADHD children and 55 non-ADHD children ages 7 – 12. The two groups were subjected to what the researchers call a “sustained attention to response task” or SART. The SART is a variation on what is traditionally termed a computerized performance test of attention or CPT which assesses sustained attention via a digital (computer screen) task where children are requested to identify stimuli that are either frequently occurring or not. The researchers interspersed images of the subject’s family in the SART in order to instigate mind-wandering. Their reaction time to the screen stimuli presented was measured and used to assess attention.
To no surprise, the data revealed that ADHD children are susceptible to mind-wandering and internal distractions. Of significance, the researchers found that in the classroom setting, ADHD children were less productive when a future reward was promised. This finding may guide classroom practices with ADHD children.
The children were given the SART while completely off medication (given a placebo) and then again while taking methylphenidate. The data showed that medication decreased reaction time on the SART but did not increase productivity in the classroom, i.e. the children on medication actually did worse than children in the control (non-intervention) condition.
In response to these findings the research team stated, “We theorize that mind-wandering is an underlying dysfunction among individuals with ADHD, and future research could utilize and modify the mind-wandering task developed herein to examine the impacts of self-referential stimuli on a myriad of functional behaviors such as reading comprehension, driving simulation, or social interaction.”
ADHD children often are distracted by both internal and external stimuli. The question then becomes what is it I can do to teach them to detect distraction and get back on task as medication obviously does not teach this skill.
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