This month’s question is answered by Speech Pathologist Natasha Kolivas. She is trained in delivering the Hanen Program: More Than Words, which targets social communication development.
For many children who have difficulty with language, social skills or play, joint attention will be one of the first things a Speech Pathologist considers when deciding on therapy goals, and one of the first goals that will be targeted if required.
Joint attention is the ability to share attention with another person about an object of interest. It requires the child to focus not only on the person they are communicating with, but also on the object or situation they are communicating about. Therefore, a child demonstrating joint attention recognizes that their communication partner is interested in and attending to the same thing he or she is. Joint attention allows us to connect with others socially, and it always has a social purpose.
Let’s look at an example! You’re standing in the backyard with your daughter when a bird flies over and lands in front of you both. If your daughter wants to draw your attention to the bird, she has to make sure that you are attending to that bird. She will need to communicate to you in some way about the bird (she might point to the bird, make a sound, or use the words ‘look, a bird!’) and then look back at you to make sure you are looking at the bird as well.
The first milestone in the development of your child’s joint attention is their ability to look at things you point to. For example, if you say ‘Look, it’s a dog’ and point to the dog, they will follow this point to look at the dog. This gradually expands until your child starts showing you things that they are interested in. For example, your daughter might point to a dog and say ‘Look, a dog!’ and look back at you to make sure you have seen it too.
Joint attention is a key factor in all other development. Just like you need to have balance before you can ride a bike, joint attention is needed before you can socially communicate with others.
If you would like to find out more about how you can support your child’s social communication development, we highly recommend the More Than Words Program.