Both attentional difficulties and rapid processing deficits have recently been linked with dyslexia. We report two studies comparing the performance of dyslexic and control teenagers on attentional tasks. The two studies were based on two different conceptions of attention. Study 1 employed a design that allowed three key components of attention - focusing, switching, and sustaining - to be investigated separately. One hypothesis under investigation was that rapid processing problems - in particular impaired ability to switch attention rapidly - might be associated with dyslexia. However, although dyslexic participants were significantly less accurate than their controls in a condition where they had to switch attention between two target types, the nature of the deficit suggested that the problem was not in switching attention per se. Thus, in Study 2, we explored an alternative interpretation of the Study 1 results in terms of the classic capacity-limited models of "central" attention. We contrasted two hypotheses: (1) that dyslexic teenagers have reduced cognitive resources versus (2) that they suffer from a general impairment in the ability to automatise basic skills. To investigate the automaticity of the shape recognition component of the task a similar attention paradigm to that used in Study 1 was employed, but using degraded, as well as intact, stimuli. It was found that stimulus degradation led to relatively less impairment for dyslexic than for matched control groups. The results support the hypothesis that dyslexic people suffer from a general impairment in the ability to automatise skills - in this case the skill of automatic shape recognition.