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What Is Joint Attention In Autism

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The Importance Of Joint Attention

How To Teach Joint Attention in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders!

Joint attention is crucial for language development. In order for a child to learn a word, he has to hear it and associate the label with an object. To illustrate, a typically developing child will look at the dog that his parents are pointing to, and hear them say Dog. He looks back at his parents to make sure that they are talking about the dog, and then looks back at the dog again. As he hears the word, dog over and over again, he starts to link the word dog with that furry four-legged creature wagging its tail.

In another scenario, the child may hold up a teddy bear and look at his parents. His parents may then respond with Oh! Teddy! The child then start to associate the label to the soft toy in his hands.

Now imagine a child lacking joint attention. Even if he had heard dog, he may not know what they are referring to if he is not responding to his parents point. In this scenario, language learning becomes difficult, if not darn near impossible.

Not only does joint attention has an impact on language, it is also necessary for social development. When children play, they are focused on and sharing toys. At a higher level, they share a make believe theme and contribute ideas to it.

Also in conversations, two people talk about an object, event or person. However, this interaction does not only linger on one topic but rather jumps from topic to topic.

List Of Joint Attention Skills:

  • Monitors the attention of a social partner. So, they can identify if they appear interested or uninterested during a conversation.
  • Secures attention to oneself before expressing intentions. This may be done by gently tapping the other persons arm, saying their name, etc.
  • Understands nonverbal cues to shift the focus when conversing with a social partner
  • Modifies language based on what their social partner has seen or heard. For example, they wouldnt tell their mom what was in their lunch box because they understand that their mom packed the lunch for them and already knows whats inside.
  • Provides requested information about immediate and past events, when asked.
  • Expresses feelings and opinions about a variety of topics
  • Shows reciprocity in speaker and listener roles sharing experiences. In other words, both parties share information and focus on what their social partner shares.
  • Initiates a variety of conversational topics
  • Initiates and maintains conversations that relate to their social partners interests
  • Maintains social interactions by requesting or providing relevant information. For example, if someone says they read a book over the weekend, your child can maintain the interaction by asking questions like what book did you read? or did you like it?
  • Provides relevant information based on social partners knowledge of a topic


Joint Attention Games & Activities

School-aged children with autism may understand the idea of joint attention. In other words, they know they are supposed to ask other people about their interests or carry out a back and forth conversation. But, they may not know how to actually participate in that type of interaction on their own.

Practicing these skills through games, direct coaching, and social stories may help develop this skill.

These games and activities can help kids practice these conversation skills so its easier to know what to say when conversing with a social partner.

  • All About Me, All About You: Conversation cards help children develop social skills and learn how to ask open-ended questions to others during conversation.
  • Topic Talk: This game helps kids learn about asking questions, making comments and making related comments in response to their social partners comment.
  • Table Topics: Fun questions to start interesting conversations for kids.
  • Kloog 2 Social Skills for Autism: This is a completely free app available on iOS and Android, developed by the Shine Autism Center. Its a game that follows the journey of an alien named Kloog who has to work through various challenging social situations on different planets.

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Signs Of Difficulty With Joint Attention

Toddlers who have difficulty with joint attention inconsistently respond to your words, your gestures , and your actions. They may appear to avoid others or ignore whats said to them. They seem to tune out their own names and other verbal directions. Things need to be their own idea or theyre not really interested. Adults may have to work pretty hard to get and keep this childs attention.

Kids with joint attention issues dont use increasingly mature ways to gain attention from others. For example, a toddler over 12 months may fuss or cry when something is wrong, but she doesnt make attempts to tell or show you whats happened.

Contrast this with a child who has mastered joint attention. A typically developing toddler is quite adept at interjecting their will. They frequently interrupt and try to direct a parents activities in order to get what they want, even before they begin to talk. They look toward, point, or lead parents, and then they continue to use any way they can to make sure that mom or dad complies with their request.

An issue with decreased joint attention is even more serious when a child also has difficulty with other social skills such as making eye contact with other people and sharing frequent warm, joyful expressions with others during close interactions.

Overt Versus Covert Joint Attention

Joint Attention and Its Importance for Kids With Autism

We know from experimental studies that even young infants can engage in covert shifts of visual attention , which are probably quite difficult to detect in the naturalistic contexts of most joint attention studies. In most studies of the link between joint attention and early vocabulary, researchers generally observe infants interacting with their caregivers in a play context, and researchers examine how often infants and caregivers coordinate gazing at each other with gazing at some third entity. However, because looking is not equivalent to attending and not looking is not equivalent to not attending , it is probably unwise to rely solely on overt gaze shifts as indicators of joint attention.

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Joint Attention In Children With Autism:

Children with autism spectrum disorder , often display delayed or absent joint attention development. This is evident when the child fails to track the objects moved in front of them or does not direct their gaze toward an object when it is either shown to them or pointed to. Moreover, children with autism often do not attempt to point to an item to engage an adult or play partner.

Joint attention is an important milestone in social development as it demonstrates that the child is not only interested in objects but also in people. Given its critical role in social and language development, children should practice and master joint attention before being taught any other form of verbal or non-verbal communication

One of the best ways to hone joint attention is through playing games that incorporate gestures and sounds that can catch the childs attention and demonstrate the meaningful use of non-verbal communication signals, such as pointing.

Behavioral And Emotional Regulation

This is one of the hardest areas for children who are on the spectrum to master because its the core of their diagnosis. This area relates to your childs ability to understand his/her emotions, process them, communicate what they are feeling, and learn how to cope with the emotions they are experiencing.

Sample behavioral and emotional goals can include:

  • Protesting undesired activities,
  • Requesting a soothing activity when distressed,
  • Expressing ones emotional state and the emotional state of others,
  • Using language to talk through transitions across activities,
  • Perceiving ones actions within social events and predicting social behavior in others in order to self-monitor,
  • Negotiating and collaborating within interactions with peers.
  • Again, these are examples of goals that can be implemented in your childs IEP. Make sure they are using goals that relate to your childs areas of weaknesses and are attainable within a school term. Most of the goals that are suggested for this disorder need to be addressed in the home setting, as well. The more exposure they have to practice the goal, the quicker they will reach it.

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    Qtrobot Teaching Joint Attention To Children With Autism

    By increasing the attention and engagement of learners and by using a variety of activities, QTrobot supports the development of joint attention in learners with autism.

    Furthermore, to increase the chance of generalization of learnt skills to other scenarios and to the interaction with a human partner, as well as ensuring the maintenance of the skill, QTrobot incorporates the joint attention in to several units including units for supporting the receptive and expressive language development, and units developed for improving cognitive skills.

    To learn more about activities related to teaching joint attention and social skills, check QTrobot Social Skills Curriculum as well as QTrobot Early Stage Development Curriculum .

    Why Is Joint Attention So Important To Child Language Development

    Autism Jargon: Joint Attention

    In order to communicate, there must be an interaction with another person. Joint attention is socialization with another by engaging in sharing an object or a situation. When you experience something, you enjoy it more when you share it with someone else. The same thing is true for a child as they begin to experience new things in their environment. A reaction to a sound, followed by a look at the source, and then to you with a smile, is a form of communication without words.

    A parent can point at the object or associate a word with the sound and begin to reinforce joint attention through imitation or taking turns. Through this activity a child can come to realize that adults want to share attention with them and provide information about their surroundings. All of these interactions reinforce the back and forth activity that is required for communication skills.

    Read Also: What Is The Life Expectancy Of People With Autism

    Play A Game Of Hide And Seek

    This helps teach your child to follow your eye gaze, point and/or head turn. Start by collecting some of your childs favourite toys or objects, then place them around the room. Start the game when the child wants one of the objects youve hidden. When that happens, shrug your shoulders and ask, Where is it? Then point to the object, saying, There it is! Once your child is consistently following your pointing, switch to turning your head in the objects direction. Progress to just shifting your gaze.

    When beginning with this activity, start by placing the objects close to your child and so they are partially visible.

    Initiating Versus Responding To Joint Attention

    Joint attention can be initiated by either member of the dyad, and likewise it can be responded to by either member of the dyad. Some studies have focused on parents initiation of joint attention and their childrens response to bids for their joint attention, but joint attention can also be initiated by children. Even typically developing children vary widely in their tendency to initiate joint attention interactions . Therefore, it is important to distinguish between childrens propensity to initiate joint attention and their propensity to respond to others initiations, because these two propensities may not be related to vocabulary development in the same way.

    reported that typically developing childrens propensity to initiate joint attention remains rather constant across the ages of 9 months to 18 months, while their propensity to respond to bids for their joint attention increases during this period. It should therefore not be too surprising that typically developing childrens frequency of initiating joint attention is not highly correlated with their frequency of responding to joint attention. Of the two child-based behaviors initiating versus responding to joint attention it is responding to joint attention that Mundy finds to be most correlated with vocabulary development in typically developing children.

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    Review And Discussion Of Rct Studies

    In the 13 RCT interventions , three developmental methods were tested, a Parent-Mediated Communication-Focused Treatment in Children with Autism , Focused Playtime Intervention , and Joint Attention-Mediated Learning . Of these, two were caregiver mediated and designed to increase parent responsiveness., The studies testing a combined developmental behavioral approach included Interpersonal Synchrony , Reciprocal Imitation Training , and the Joint Attention and Symbolic Play/Engagement and Regulation Treatment . Indeed, JASPER dominated the RCTs in the past 10 years eight studies examined variations of JASPER treatment across multiple settings and delivery models . .

    Measures And Data Analysis

    An Introduction to Joint Attention

    Considering the focus of the paper and the JA construct, the measures were computed only for the JA segment of the three tasks. Normalized gaze or object following the accuracy, transitions and fixations on areas of interest were considered as measures for analysis . Gaze or object following accuracy refers to the difference between frequency of first looks at the target object and frequency of first look to the non-target object.

    The normalized gaze-following accuracy for the responding JA task and the normalized object-following accuracy for the initiating JA-1 were computed as the difference of frequency of first looks at the target object and the frequency of first looks at the non-target object and dividing this difference by the number of trials in which the child looked to either objects., These measures are an index of childs preference for target or non-target object.

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    Different Types Of Joint Attention

    Joint attention can be divided into two parts:

    Child is responding to another persons invitation for joint attention

    A dad is walking in the park with his toddler. He points to a beautiful butterfly and say Look! A butterfly. The child turns and follows the point of her dad, and reaches out to try and catch the butterfly.

    Child is initiating joint attention with another person

    Initiating joint attention with another person usually requires social motivation. This looking back and forth between the object and another person is called social referencing. The child might look at the adult as if to say Look at meIm doing something great! or to check to see if what they are doing is OK or safe.

    Here are 2 examples:

    • A child points to an aeroplane in the sky and says Airplane. When mum comments, Wow! A big airplane, the child looks at her and smiles.
    • A child looks at parents with a big grin, topples the stack of blocks in front of him then turns back again to see his parents reaction.

    What Are The Signs Of Joint Attention

    The typical child development of joint attention begins with eye gazing as early as 4-6 months.

    • A 6-month-old should be able to follow the gaze of his parent by turning to whatever the parent is looking at.
    • At about 8-9 months, babies begin pointing. They will point as well as use their eye gaze to get someones attention directed to the object at which they are looking.
    • Once a baby is over 9 months you will see gaze checking when they are looking to see that you are looking at the same object.

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    More On Communication Skills

    Communication challenges are part of the diagnostic criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the DSM V. It covers a broad range of abilities from verbal language, symbolic communication, listening skills, social skills, pragmatics, joint attention, and more.

    Each child has their own unique challenges, and strengths.

    To learn more about other specific skills, be sure to visit the communication skills section of the blog.

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    Word Learning Without Joint Attention In Autistic Development

    Autism and Joint Attention | Fun Minute Tip 3

    Autism is defined as atypical social interaction, communication, interests, and body movements . There is a robust literature examining the joint attention skills of autistic children and a smaller literature examining the joint attention skills of parents of autistic children . While there is little doubt that autistic children show atypical joint attention, this atypicality is more prominent for their initiation of joint attention than for their response to bids for their joint attention .

    Recall that in typical development, initiating joint attention remains rather constant across the ages of 9 months to 18 months whereas responding to bids for joint attention increases in typical development, initiating joint attention is not highly correlated with responding to joint attention, and initiating joint attention is less correlated with vocabulary development than is responding to joint attention. Therefore, it should not be too surprising that autistic childrens atypical joint attention appears to be unrelated to their vocabulary development.

    In one of the few studies to measure vocabulary development directly, using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test , reported that joint attention and vocabulary development independently distinguished autistic children from typically developing children, and the two measures were uncorrelated. Other studies have also failed to show a relation between vocabulary development and joint attention in autism .

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    Teach Your Child Joint Attention

    Lets say youre hanging out with your neighbour, Paul. In your time together, youll point out interesting things in the backyard, look at him when hes commenting on your blooming petunias and make eye contact throughout your game of cards. Joint attention, which is essentially the ability to get, hold and shift attention when youre interacting with another person, comes naturally to you. The opposite, however, is true for most kids with autism. As joint attention is an important part of social, language and cognitive development, its a good idea to foster your sweeties skills. Heres how to start.

    Encourage eye contact Use his favourite toys. Hold up noisy or light up ones beside your face. Call Timmys name and, at the same time, trigger the light or sound so hell look at you. Give him oodles of tickles, high-fives or hugs for looking. Slowly fade out the toys, so Timmy learns to respond to his name and not just Thomas The Trains sound. TIP: When first teaching eye contact, have your peepers at Timmys eye level to make it easy for him to look at you.

    Practice pointing and lookingHelp Timmy point. Whenever youre close to something that interests Timmy, guide most of his fingers down so hes pointing at the object. At the same time, model words such as Train! Look! I see a ___! Praise him lots for pointing and respond with Wow, thats cool! Thats a great ___!

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