Attention-Shifting in children with and without DLD

Aljahlan, Y., & Spaulding, T. J. (2021). Attentional shifting in children with developmental language disorder: A meta-analysis. Journal of Communication Disorders, 91, 106105.


Aim of the paper:


As attentional shifting has been shown to play an important role in children’s language development, several researchers have looked at attentional shifting in children with developmental language disorder (DLD). Because different methodologies were used across studies, the findings have been mixed and no conclusion has been reached about whether children with DLD have problems with attention shifting. This study ran a meta-analysis of 20 studies to explore whether there are differences in attentional shifting abilities between children with and without DLD. The effects of task type, participant age, and measurement of attentional shifting used were also examined.


Key term:

Attentional shifting: a process that involves disengaging from one focus of attention and switching to a different focus of attention. For example, disengaging from playing a computer game to focusing on school work.


What was found:


· Children with DLD performed poorer in attentional shifting tasks when compared to peers without DLD.

· There is variability in the attentional shifting abilities of children with DLD across studies

· The type of task used to measure attentional shifting influenced the amount of difference in performance between children with and without DLD.

· The performance did not differ between children with and without DLD for alternating tasks, where children alternated between two sets of rules on the same task.

· Performance did differ for set-shifting tasks, where children followed one rule for a number of trials and had to suddenly follow a new rule on the same task.

· There were no effects of participant age. The poorer attentional shifting performance of children with DLD was consistently shown across different age groups.


What does this mean?


The findings from this paper indicate that children with DLD can have difficulties in attentional shifting when compared to children without DLD. As attentional shifting difficulties can influence the performance of assessments and the progress of interventions, professionals working with children with DLD should take this into consideration when engaging with the child. Considering the importance of flexible attention shifting in language skills, treating attentional shifting weaknesses of children with DLD may be beneficial in improving their use of language.


Where can I read this paper?


This paper is not open access. If you wish to read the full paper, please email E-DLD@bath.ac.uk and request a copy of the paper.