Neuropsychology Review

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 361–383 | Cite as

Assessment of Attention in Preschoolers

  • E. M. Mahone
  • H. E. Schneider


In the past two decades, there has been an increased interest in the assessment and treatment of preschool children presenting with concerns about attention problems. This article reviews the research and clinical literature involving assessment of attention and related skills in the preschool years. While inattention among preschoolers is common, symptoms alone do not necessarily indicate a disorder, and most often represent a normal variation in typical preschool child development. Thus, accurate identification of “disordered” attention in preschoolers can be challenging, and development of appropriate, norm-referenced tests of attention for preschoolers is also difficult. The current review suggests that comprehensive assessment of attention and related functions in the preschool child should include thorough review of the child’s history, planned observations, and formal psychometric testing. The three primary methods of psychometric assessment that have been used to characterize attentional functioning in preschool children include performance-based tests, structured caregiver interviews, and rating scales (parent, teacher, and clinician). Among performance-based methods for measurement of attention in the preschool years, tests have been developed to assess sustained attention, selective (focused) attention, span of attention (encoding/manipulation), and (top-down) controlled attention—including freedom from distractibility and set shifting. Many of these tests remain experimental in nature, and review of published methods yields relatively few commercially available, nationally normed tests of attention for preschoolers, and an overall dearth of reliability and validity studies on the available measures.


ADHD Preschool Childhood Development Executive function Attention Continuous performance test Cancellation test 



This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Grants R01 HD068425, P30 HD 24061 (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center), the Johns Hopkins Brain Sciences Institute, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, an NIH/NCRR CTSA Program, UL1-RR025005.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of NeuropsychologyKennedy Krieger InstituteBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA

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