Joint Attention: Why is it important?
Updated: Apr 8
What is joint attention?
Joint attention is the ability to share a common focus on something with someone else (people, objects, concepts, events, etc). It develops early on during infancy and forms the foundation for social and cognitive development.
When does joint attention develop?
Joint attention can be seen as early as right after birth and it continues to develop
throughout early childhood. During the early stages of development the child is a passive participant.
Newborn to 8 months
The newborn smiles in response to the parent's voice and follow's the parent's gaze. For example: if the parent looks at the window, the child will follow.
8 months to 1 year
As the child's motor skills begin to develop, he/she starts pointing at objects to communicate with the parent. The child also continues to follow the parent's gaze more accurately and consistently.
1 to 1.5 years
The child begins to use 'pointing' as a mode of communication to communicate with parents/caregivers. He/she also loves engaging in games like "peek-a-boo" and colorful toys.
1.5 to 2 years
At this age the child is able to comfortably engage in social play with another person. The child also learns to draw attention of the other person during play activities.
Two ways in which Joint Attention can occur-
1. Initiating joint attention:
Joint attention initiation refers to communication used to share interest regarding an object, person, or event with someone else. Most commonly, joint attention is initiated by young children through the nonverbal gestures of pointing, showing, giving, and coordinated looking.
2. Responding to joint attention:
Responding to joint attention requires that a social partner visibly acknowledges the joint attention initiation of their communication partner. Responding to is easier than initiating, joint attention.
Components of joint attention
Joint Attention consists of 3 main components that together form the basis for its development.
Attention - The ability to follow another person's eye gaze.
Emotions - Being able to look at another person's face to get information on how they feel.
Intentions - when the child and parent or caregiver are trying to do the same thing and they know they are doing it together.
Why is joint attention so important?
Why do SLPs stress soo much on development of joint attention? This is because, joint attention is the most important pre requisite of language development. Several studies support the idea that joint attention reflects mental and behavioral processes that facilitate human learning and development. The frequency with which infants engage in joint attention is related to their language acquisition, even when variance associated with general cognition is controlled. Joint attention is needed for the development of eye contact, imitation, early language, social interaction, to name a few.
Conditions are associated with delays in joint attention.
The condition where deficits in joint attention are prominent is ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders). Children with ASD have deficits in social communication and lack of joint attention contributes to be one of the major reasons for that. We also see that children with developmental delays due to a variety of causes may have some difficulty with joint attention.
When should I be concerned about my child's difficulties with joint attention?
It is often hard to determine when your child is finding it difficult to share joint attention activities with you. Some signs are:
When your child avoids eye contact.
When it is difficult for your child to follow your eye gaze to look at the same thing.
When your child is unable to sustain joint attention during social play.
When your child has difficulty sharing emotional states with another person.
When your child finds it difficult to use the direction of gaze or pointing to direct the attention of others to something within their world.
How can I work on joint attention?
Some of the ways to work on joint attention are:
Make sure that you are seated in front of your child during activities.
Make use of cause/effect toys
Use animated voice to get your child's attention.
Engage in games like "peek-a-boo" or blowing bubbles.
Complete puzzles or craft activities together.
Play turn taking games like passing the ball.
What should you do when engaging in any activity to gain a child's joint attention?
Practice joint attention daily as a part of your routine for example brushing teeth, taking a bath. Provide consistent praise and reinforcement to your child after a desired response. Build on your child's interests and choose activities that your child enjoys. Allow your child to take the lead in the activity and direct you on how to proceed.