At TALi Health, we believe that every child deserves attention. It’s a vision that drives us and permeates all that we do.
Attention must be considered in a similar way to vision, hearing and language development, in that it’s a foundational skill and an essential part of cognitive development. It underpins a child’s ability to learn and involves skills that need to be explicitly taught.
During early childhood development, the impact of experience on brain function is particularly strong during so-called ‘sensitive periods’. As shown in red on the graph below, the sensitive period for cognitive development peaks at around 3 years of age.
Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA,. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development: National Academy of Sciences, 2000.
Early intervention programs that overlap with this sensitive period help children to:1
- Focus their attention
- Persist with tasks
- Receive more complicated instructions and activities.
So what’s the problem?
In contrast, the impact of inattention during early childhood can be long-term and life-changing. For example:2
- Inattention is linked to mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety
- Attention skills at age 4 predict:
- Maths and reading ability at age 21
- Likelihood of completing university by age 25
- ADHD symptom severity during childhood is a predictor of certain adverse outcomes later in life such as smoking, substance abuse and unemployment.
Inattention also has negative effects on the educational and judicial systems, and it carries a financial cost in relation to overall healthcare, productivity and loss of income.
Inaction on these issues in Australia has resulted in children with fewer social relationships, increased vulnerability to mental health issues, and a greater risk of incarceration and substance abuse.3
Bringing the issue into focus
Improving attention skills in early childhood is a pragmatic and positive step that improves the lives of children, as well as their families, teachers, classmates and communities.
For children who require support, current NDIS early intervention funding allows those who qualify to receive services up to the of age 7 years (Note: TALi is a registered NDIS provider).
Similarly, a national approach to attention assessment and training – particularly to support children with learning disabilities – aligns with the Australian Government’s Quality Schools Package funding arrangement.
Simply put, this is an unmet need – attention needs our attention.
A key national solution
TALi Health gives children with attention vulnerabilities the best chance at achieving their educational goals, by delivering access to evidence-based, engaging, digital assessment and intervention tools.
We have been delivering positive benefits to children with attention vulnerabilities in a cost-effective, scalable manner since 2017. Our tools align with value-based care delivery in school and healthcare settings.
The technology is seamlessly delivered in person, via online learning or, increasingly, telehealth channels. Due to its ability to be delivered via online and telehealth channels, it enables anyone to access the technology – whether they are in rural, regional or metropolitan areas.
Thousands of children have used the technology and it’s transforming lives. The pre- and post- training scores show 80 percent of children who use TALi TRAIN achieve improvements in inattentive and hyperactive behaviours (based on a behavioural rating scale).
Focusing on early childhood development through neuro-supportive intervention models would maximise an investment in brain health and fitness. Improvements in childhood cognition and socio-emotional skills drive better education, health, social and economic outcomes.
Our tools are a non-pharmaceutical avenue for the assessment and training of attention issues in early childhood. We provide parents and healthcare professionals with developmentally sensitive tools that both identify and support children with attention vulnerabilities.
Ongoing research ensures these tools continue to provide tailored, actionable insights for support networks, including educators, disability support workers, clinicians and parents.
Designed and developed in Australia at a Group of Eight University, our technology is founded on more than 25 years of behaviour and cognitive science research.
We believe that there is an explicit role for Australian State and Federal Governments to play in delivering this national solution. With the right support in Australia, we can also continue to expand this much-needed technology globally.
Time to make a difference in Australian kids
The TALi team believes now is the time for our Government to take a leadership role in addressing attention vulnerabilities at a grassroots level. We believe there is a real and important opportunity to unlock universal access to attention assessments and training. And to place attention on the same level as reading and writing, by making it a mandatory inclusion in school readiness.
As outlined in the newly minted National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, investment in early childhood intervention is worthwhile, sensible and cost-effective. There is a deep incentive to ‘pay now’ to detect and treat the issue of inattention in childhood, or ‘pay more later’ for specialist treatment services.
Our call for universal access involves taking a baseline measure of Australian children entering kindergarten, followed by annual measurement to monitor progress and determine if they have an attention vulnerability. Once identified, these children could be offered access to our clinically validated training program.
Across the course of five weeks, our training program exercises the essential cognitive skills of selection, focus, control and inhibition. The resulting improvements in selective attention skills have been shown to translate into real-world improvements in numeracy skills and general improvements in cognitive attention resulted in improvements in inattentive/hyperactive behaviour in the classroom.
With early intervention, children experiencing attention difficulties can be given the opportunity to improve cognitive attention skills during peak neuroplasticity – that is, at the time when a child’s brain is most actively forming new connections.
An aspirational vision
Future research into attention development should prioritise well-defined sampling strategies, rigorous investigative design, fidelity of implementation and meaningful outcome measurements
We believe there is an opportunity to create a brand-new National Centre of Excellence for Attention Improvement with a remit to:
- Set out and administer recommendations for improving attention in early childhood
- Proactively provide feedback data
- Improve educational and health outcomes.
This would complement existing research conducted by organisations like Autism Spectrum Australia, ADHD Australia and AUSPELD.
A population health analysis and other key insights could also be provided to the Federal Government every six months to:
- Benchmark attention vulnerability against a national average
- Inform decision-making and continuous improvement
- Make a difference to the lives of our youngest Australians, no matter where they live.
Ultimately, this will complement, enable and inform the Government’s childcare outcomes priorities to track progress and measure growth in literacy and numeracy.
Our vision for attention leadership in Australia
- Australia develops population-level baseline measures of attention in early childhood.
- Early assessment and intervention drives positive health outcomes in early childhood and results in future economic and social gains.
- There is a cost effective, scalable approach to attention assessment and training at a population health level, which can be deployed in all States and Territories.
- The Government is recognised as a global leader in the field and can demonstrate commitment to giving every child the best possible start in early years.
These are lofty ambitions. But the cost of inaction is far greater. Every child deserves attention.
References: 1. Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington DC, USA: National Academies Press; 2000. 2. Doshi JA, et al. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2012;51:990–1002.e2. 3. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 2000, Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, text revision. World Health Organization: International Classification of Diseases. 1992, Geneva, Switzerland.
Abbreviations: ADHD: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; ASD: autism spectrum disorder; NDIS: National Disability Insurance Scheme.