Joint attention. This is a term you may have heard in reference to your child’s development. But, what is it really?
What is joint attention?
Joint attention is simply the shared focus of two individuals (i.e. you and your child) on the same object of interest. This can happen when one individual alerts their communication partner to an object, usually through eye gaze and pointing. For example, you and your child are outside. You then see an airplane flying in the sky. You initiate joint attention by pointing and looking at the airplane saying “Look! An airplane!” hoping that your child will follow your gaze and point and also attend to that airplane.
Why is joint attention important?
Children on the autism spectrum often have difficulty both following joint attention and initiating this interaction with their caregivers or peers. Overall, joint attention is crucial for developing your child’s communication. It also helps develop important social skills such as bonding and seeing another’s point of view.
How to increase joint attention.
Here are some ways you can work on increasing your child’s joint attention skills:
1. Be a language model.
Use gestures (i.e. pointing) along with eye gaze to show your child where you want them to look with you. A good place to start is using hand over hand teaching to help your child point to objects. You can also practice with objects or toys your child really likes.
2. Follow your child’s lead.
If your child is showing interest in a toy, you can comment “You like the bubbles!”, add a gesture by pointing to the bubbles, and then add a visual cue (point to your eyes and pretend to draw a line from your eyes to the object).
3. Incorporate your child’s routines.
One of the best ways for your child to practice joint attention is through the routines they have every day at home! This can be during brushing teeth, bath time, and eating a snack. For example, during snack time, give your child small pieces of their snack and wait for them to look at you and/or point to what they want before giving them another piece.
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