What is Joint Attention and Why is it Important for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders?

April 10, 2012

Joint attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object or each other . Joint attention on  an object is achieved when one individual alerts another to an object by means of eye-gazing, pointing or other verbal or non-verbal indication. An individual gazes at another individual, points to an object and then returns their gaze to the individual (3 point gaze). Each individual must understand that the other individual is looking at the same object and realize that there is an element of shared attention.  The individual must display awareness that focus is shared between himself and another individual. If two individuals are simply looking at the same object, but not referencing each other, it is referred to as shared gaze. Shared gaze is the lowest level of joint attention.  Joint attention between people is a conversation-like behavior that individuals engage in. Adults and infants engage in this behavior starting at two months of age. Adults and infants take turns exchanging facial expressions and sounds.  The sole purpose of joint attention is to share an interesting object or experience with another person.

Joint attention is a necessary precursor skill for language and social-cognitive development.  It is important for the development social referencing, language acquisition and learning through modeling behaviors of others around you and other, later-emerging, skills, such as more complex expressive language, symbolic play, and theory of mind.

Children with Autism Spectrum disorders have a particular difficulty in their social relationships. Children with Autism often demonstrate a lack of or delays in joint attention skills.  Children with Autism are often more interested in and engaged by their own thoughts and sensations than by other people or even the outside world.  Social connections are more difficult to build and understand for children with Autism.  A lack of or a delay in joint attention skills can limit children’s ability to learn through imitation, develop play and social skills, and attend in a learning situation such as a classroom.  Children with Autism who display more intact joint attention skills exhibit better outcomes with respect to the development of cognitive, language, and symbolic play skills. Joint attention skills have a vital role in the development of children with autism spectrum disorders. Joint attention skills can be taught and addressed in a number of therapy models and approaches.

-Brandi Quinsay, MA, CCC-SLP

Advertisements

You Will Not “Zone-out” With This Great Self Regulation Program

April 4, 2012

The Zones of Regulation Curriculum was designed to help children become more successful in school, at home, and in the community by independently controlling maladaptive behaviors through the process of self regulation and emotional control. Self regulation is the ability to be in the best state to successfully engage in a particular activity. When exposed to a frustrating activity, an individual with self regulation difficulties may find coping challenging and will likely demonstrate maladaptive behaviors such as physically escaping the situation or lashing out.

Through the Zones of Regulation program, students will learn how to categorize their emotions and states of alertness into four  color categorized zones.

  1. The Blue Zone: A low state of alertness. For example, when one feels sick, tired, or bored.
  2. The Green Zone: A regulated state of alertness. Characterized when one is focused, calm and content.
  3. The Yellow Zone: A heightened state of alertness. For example, when one experiences feeling of frustration, silliness, or confusion.
  4. The Red Zone: An extremely heightened state of alertness. When one feels intense emotions such as rage, panic, or terror.

The Zones of Regulation curriculum teaches children which zones are expected for given circumstances. For example, right before a championship sports event, it is okay for one’s body to be in the Yellow Zone as a heightened state of alertness may boost athletic performance. In contrast, a heightened state of alertness is not appropriate when one is sitting in math class. If a child is in a zone that does not match the demands of the environment, the Zones curriculum teaches children tools that help them move between zones; this helps a child get their body in a “just right” place to do what is expected of them. A child’s toolbox of self regulation strategies consists of a variety of calming techniques, cognitive strategies, and sensory supports.

The Zones of Regulation curriculum is appropriate for any child, even as young as preschool years, that struggles with self regulation. However, some children with the following conditions frequently have difficulty self regulating: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Anxiety Disorders.

For more information about the Zones of Regulation program, please ask your CSLOT occupational therapist.

-Rosie Commons M.S. OTR/L

References:

Kuypers, L.M. (2011). The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Deisgned to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control. San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing, Inc.