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Selective and sustained attention in children with spina bifida myelomeningocele

Child neuropsychology : a journal on normal and abnormal development in childhood and adolescence | 13 Jan 2012

ID Caspersen and T Habekost
Spina bifida myelomeningocele (SBM) is a neural tube defect that has been related to deficits in several cognitive domains including attention. Attention function in children with SBM has often been studied using tasks that are confounded by complex motor demands or tasks that do not clearly distinguish perceptual from response-related components of attention. We used a verbal-report paradigm based on the Theory of Visual Attention ( Bundesen, 1990 ) and a new continuous performance test, the Dual Attention to Response Task ( Dockree et al., 2006 ), for measuring parameters of selective and sustained attention in 6 children with SBM and 18 healthy control children. The two tasks had minimal motor demands, were functionally specific and were sensitive to minor deficits. As a group, the children with SBM were significantly less efficient at filtering out irrelevant stimuli. Moreover, they exhibited frequent failures of sustained attention and response control in terms of omission errors, premature responses, and prolonged inhibition responses. All 6 children with SBM showed deficits in one or more parameters of attention; for example, three patients had elevated visual perception thresholds, but large individual variation was evident in their performance patterns, which highlights the relevance of an effective case-based assessment method in this patient group. Overall, the study demonstrates the strengths of a new testing approach for evaluating attention function in children with SBM.
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