The Role of Attention in Maths and Reading Achievement for Children with and without an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
M. Hanley1, E. McDougal2 and D. M. Riby3, (1)South Road, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (2)Psychology, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (3)Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom

Attention abilities provide the gateway for learning in all domains, including reading and maths. Although not a core feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), attention atypicalities have been well-documented (Ames & Fletcher-Watson, 2010). However, little research has investigated the role of attentional atypicalities in academic achievement in ASD.


The purpose of this study was to (1) investigate the role of attention in maths and reading achievement for children with and without ASD, and (2) to characterise profiles of academic achievement in relation to attention in children with and without ASD.


Twenty-seven children with ASD aged between 6 and 16 years (M = 10.75) and 61 typically developing children aged between 6 and 11 years (M = 8.94) completed standardised assessments, including the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence-II (WASI-II), the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch), and the Wechsler Individual Attainment Test-II (WIAT-II), providing measures of FSIQ, selective, sustained, and divided attention, and reading and maths achievement.


Correlational analyses showed that attention abilities were related to reading and maths achievement, but differently for children with and without autism. For typically developing children, sustained attention was related to reading achievement (r = .216, p = .05), but for children with autism divided attention was related to both reading (r = .591, p = .002) and maths achievement (r = .729, p < .001). A hierarchical cluster analysis was performed to examine whether there were sub-groups within the data reflecting different profiles of achievement relating to attention. This produced a three-cluster solution that grouped children according to ability – a group with good divided attention and good reading/maths achievement; average divided attention and average reading/maths achievement; and poor divided attention with correspondingly poor reading and maths achievement. Seventy nine per cent of children in the poor achievement group were children with autism. Inspection of the profile of this group indicated that although FSIQ was in the average range (M = 86) as was reading achievement (M = 81), these children appeared to have a relative weakness with maths achievement (M = 73).


Overall, the results highlight that attention abilities are important for academic achievement. The findings suggest that the ability to divide attention between two tasks (in this case, auditory and visual) may be more important than sustained or selective attention skills for academic achievement. They also show that divided attention may be particularly important for children with autism in relation to maths achievement. Identifying attention skills important for achievement in different domains can help with future interventions. Further exploration is needed in a real world context, using real-time measures of attention and learning, to gain a deeper understanding of how attention abilities support or constrain learning and achievement.