Joint Attention

Learning to communicate using speech and language is a primary developmental task for young children. Significant progress in research related to language intervention is available to improve the delivery of Early Intervention services. According to the most recent research, social attention and prelinguistic communicative behaviors are fundamental to language learning and use.  According to Adamson et al., 2009, “the process of joint engagement between children and their partners is foundational to emerging communication.” In CSLOT’s parent handout, Making a Joint Effort to Communicate, joint engagement is initiated by the child’s communication partner through observation. By becoming a thoughtful observer, one can learn what the child enjoys, desires, feels – even what they want to communicate. Yoder & Warren, 2004 indicated that “coordinated joint attention is an important early indicator of social communication abilities and predicts the onset of spoken language in typical children with disabilities.” How can a parent, caretaker or therapist initiate coordinated joint attention? According to Making a Joint Effort to Communicate, one way is to become more physically involved in the same activity as the child. This works best when it is an activity of the child’s choosing. During the joint action, try imitating the child’s play- then try adding or expanding on their play.

Adamson et al., 2009 also found that the use of symbols (gestures, words) within the context of joint attention marks the transition from prelinguistic to linguistic communication. One way of using language during a joint activity is by providing joint referencing for the child. According to the handout, once the communication partner (i.e., parent, caretaker, therapist) is engaged in joint action with the child and they have established joint attention (i.e., both attending to the same thing), the communication partner can introduce the language component by talking about the object/action that the child is attending to. For example, if the child is playing with a car, then the communication partner will guide their attention to the car, talk about what it is, what it looks like, what it is doing, etc. The car is important to him right now so one can make that a “teachable moment.” Additional methods for teaching joint attention and prelinguistic communication skills (point, show, give, turn taking) have included environmental arrangement, modeling, prompting, and reinforcing child responses in naturalistic and direct teaching paradigms. Please speak with a speech-language pathologist for additional information on these techniques.

-Sarah Peters, MS, CCC-SLP

Information gathered from and “Advances in Early Communication and Language Intervention,” (Kaiser & Roberts, 2011).


2 Responses to Joint Attention

  1. Aileen McGonigal says:

    Some new research published very recently by a French/ Italian team in PNAS shows a positive effect of l e t t e r s p a c i n g.
    There is a free app avilable called DYS for iPad and iPhone, downloadable from the App Store, to test optimal spacing.
    I thought that you and your readers might be interested.

  2. CSLOT says:

    Thank you for this reference for Dyslexia. I will make sure to add this comment to that post.

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