A different kind of tablet to test for early childhood attention difficulties

An electronic astronaut is helping researchers spot the difference between normal four-year-old energy and the signs of attention difficulties.

TALI (Training Attention and Learning Initiative) Detect is a series of short games for tablet computers. It’s been made possible by combining 20 years of neuroscientific research at Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences (MICCN) with the expertise of Australian game developer Torus Games.

The series of seven short games assesses different types of attention: sustained (focussing for a long period), selective (ignoring distractions), and executive control (switching between goal-directed behaviours, which includes resisting impulses).

The researchers hope TALI Detect will help identify subclinical levels of attention difficulties in young children that may not otherwise be picked up.

“We don’t look at it in terms of ‘disorder’. We think of it as having inattention vulnerabilities, meaning they may struggle with certain aspects of learning,” says Research Fellow James Kean, who is coordinating the project along with co-creators Dr Hannah Kirk (an NHMRC Research Fellow) and Professor Kim Cornish, Director of MICCN.

“The idea is to use a short, engaging game to find out if there’s a vulnerability—to detect any variation in different areas where they might be struggling,” James says.

They’re currently testing TALI Detect on around 300 children around Victoria aged four to six.

“In the future, we imagine the game could become a normal part of a child’s learning progression: it will provide them with scores that might be related back to the ‘average’ data, then if there’s evidence of a type of inattention, it would be up to the parents and teachers to decide how to act,” James says.

The team is currently looking for schools and families to take part in the study.

Banner image: TALI the Astronaut is one of the main characters in the game. Credit: Torus Games