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joint attention

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What Is Joint Attention?

Joint attention is the ability to share a common focus on something (people, objects, a book, etc.) with someone else. It requires the ability to gain, maintain, and shift attention. Sharing a focus helps us to communicate, develop important social skills (like bonding) and, importantly, seeing someone else’s point of view. Joint attention skills start in babies. Early skills include reaching to be picked up, pointing to a favourite toy, or looking at the same picture in a book. Some later skills include focusing on a game, playing pretend games, etc.

The Skills That Are Needed for Joint Attention:

  • Turning and attending to a social partner
  • Shifting gaze between people and objects
  • Sharing emotions with another person
  • Following the point and gaze of another person
  • Being able to draw another person’s attention to objects or events

How Do You Help a Child to Develop Joint Attention?

Being a good language model is one of the best ways to help a child improve their joint attention skills. Use body language, gestures (like pointing) and eye gaze, to show the child where to direct their focus. Use hand-over-hand teaching, like taking a child’s hand and helping them point to an object to practice gestures. Pointing to things a child likes is a good way to start.

Following the child’s lead is another way to help improve their joint attention. When a child shows interest in an object, show them that you are also interested. You can do this by making a comment (“You see the big ball.”), adding a gesture (point to the ball), and adding a visual cue (point to your eye and “draw” a pretend line going from your eye to the ball).

Practice joint attention skills during daily routines. Activities like brushing teeth, walking the dog, and eating breakfast can be good opportunities.

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