Fifty-seven 7-14-year-old early- and continuously treated phenylketonuria (PKU) patients and 65 matched controls performed a sustained attention task. PKU patients with plasma phenylalanine (phe) levels higher than 360 μmol/l at the time of testing exhibited, compared to controls, lower speed of information processing, a lower ability to inhibit task-induced cognitive interference, less consistent performance, and a stronger decrease of performance level over time. Patients with concurrent phe levels lower than 360 μmol/l did not differ from controls and were significantly better than patients with levels higher than 360 μmol/l. Strong relationships were found with task performance for phe levels during the pre-school years and between ages 5 and 7. These correlations were stronger than those between concurrent phe level and task performance. Significant multiple regression models were found with age accounting for the largest proportion of variance of tempo and tempo fluctuation, and lifetime phe levels (particularly phe level between ages 5 and 7) accounting for the largest proportion of variance of the relative number of inhibition errors and its increase over time. Phe level between ages 5 and 7 also contributed significantly to the variance of tempo and tempo fluctuation. Neuropsychological outcome was independent of IQ. The results indicate that strict dietary adherence during these periods is beneficial to attentional control later in life. We suggest that phe levels should be maintained under 360 μmol/l until approximately age 12, when development of attentional control approaches an adult level. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.