Sustained attention refers to the ability to maintain attentional focus on relevant stimuli with repeated presentation over extended periods of time. It is the ability to direct and focus cognitive activity on specific stimuli.

In children with attention difficulties, the brain systems that sustain attention seem to be slow and incomplete in their development. Popular over-stimulating attention-getting devices like video games or television may exacerbate the situation by weakening the child’s own internal ability to sustain attention. 

In order to help students in this area, the right balance between keeping students engaged and continuing to give tasks that challenge and strengthen students’ attention spans is necessary.

Difficulties with Sustained Attention May Manifest in Students in the Following Ways

  • Frequent inattention
  • Lack of interest
  • Distractability
  • Disruptive behaviors 
  • Struggling to complete simple tasks

During a neuropsychological evaluation, a student’s attention, concentration, and inhibition may be tested with measures that assess auditory attention, visual attention, impulse control, and comprehension of instructions.

Supporting Students with Sustained Attention Difficulties

School Psychologists can consult with teachers to adjust their instructional practice to include the following strategies:

  • Physical activity in their lesson and daily routine 
  • Practice attentive behavior 
  • Have flexible time frames
  • Remove visual distractions
  • Play memory games 
  • Chunk tasks

For more information on understanding sustained attention, check out our Sustained Attention document by clicking the button below.

Branstetter, R. (2014). The everything parent’s guide to children with executive functioning disorder. F+W Media, Inc.

Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2018). Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention (3rd ed.). The Guilford Publications Inc.

Matheis, L. (2021). Quiet, sustained attention is not natural for our kids. Here’s what is. (