Joint Attention and
When two people are both focussed on the same thing, it is
known as joint attention. It doesn’t matter what they’re focussed on (it could
be a person, an object, an event, even a concept) just that they’re sharing a
common focus. It’s an important part of the way people communicate, and helps
us to develop social skills like bonding and being able to see another’s point
of view. In children, joint attention is also an important tool in helping them
ensure their needs are being met.
Joint attention involves people gaining, maintaining and
shifting attention. It relies on shared gaze (both parties visually focussing
on the same thing) as well as gesture to be successful, and a child’s early
joint attention skills can be an important predictor of their future language
Typically, you would first start to notice joint attention
happening between a child and their parent. Things like a baby smiling, reaching
to be picked up, pointing at a toy, or focussing on the correct page in a book
are all early types of joint attention. After all, children learn to
communicate non-verbally long before they learn to communicate using words! For
children with autism these activities can be difficult as they lack the social
skills necessary to gain and maintain focus with another person.
Does a Lack of Joint
Attention Mean My Child Has Autism?
Children with autism are often more interested in and engaged
with their own thoughts and sensations, so a lack of reciprocity or joint
engagement can be a red flag for parents. However, difficulties with joint
attention don’t always mean autism, but do get in touch with us here at London
Speech Therapy if you are at all concerned about your child’s development.
Attention with a Child with Autism
The best way to help a child improve their joint attention
skills is by modelling them. Whilst things like shared gaze may not come
naturally to a child with autism, you can show them where to direct their gaze
by using gestures such as pointing along with your own gaze. Sometimes it can
help to add a visual cue, such as pointing to your eye and ‘drawing’ a pretend
line from your eye to the object you would like them to focus on. It also helps
to use objects that a child is familiar with and shows an interest in.
Timing is also important when it comes to practicing joint
attention. Many children with autism feel more comfortable with consistent
routines, so incorporating your practice into daily tasks such as eating or
washing can work particularly well. Most importantly, keep in mind what an
important skill joint attention is for communication, so don’t give up!
Techniques to Improve Joint Attention
At London Speech Therapy, we have a wealth of experience of
working with children with autism, and our specialist speech and language
therapists use a number of approaches to improve joint attention.
To find out if your child could benefit from a personalised
course of speech and language therapy, get in touch to arrange an assessment by
using the form below or give us a call on 020