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Joint Attention

Joint attention is recognized as one of the earliest forms of communication in young children and involves the coordinated attention, or gaze shift, between a social partner and an object or event in the environment. Children typically develop social attention between 9 and 18 months of age. Joint attention responses can be facilitated using prompting, modeling, and reinforcement strategies.

  • Use toys that are novel or enticing to the child
  • Structure the environment so can make eye contact with the child
  • Verbally praise interaction with the items and demonstrate play actions for them
  • Reinforce eye contact with praise and access to the item

Identify items in the environment that already serve as reinforcers. Provide access to those reinforcing items only through the child making eye contact with the provider of the item. Over time, this procedure pairs the social partner with reinforcing items and they themselves become reinforcing to the child. The child will approach the social partner more often and make more frequent eye contact over time. The increase in joint attention then allows for the use of gestures, eye gaze, and modeling to be used as teaching strategies for new skills.

Another way to improve joint attention is to follow the child’s lead. When a child shows interest in an object, mimic that interest. Make enthusiastic comments about the item and embed yourself in the play activity by modeling novel actions, imitating their actions, and praising eye contact and sharing.

Below are two videos demonstrating the importance and use of joint attention teaching strategies: