Joint attention refers to the ability to share a common focus on something with someone, including people, objects, concepts, events, etc. It is mainly a social form of communication built up during infancy and continues to grow until early childhood. Joint attention is a significant factor for a child’s social development, cognitive development, and language acquisition.
Joint attention is important for various things. It is needed to develop eye contact, attention and imitation skills, social interaction, and early language buildup, sharing of knowledge, and shared attention during social interactions.
It is common for children with autism to have difficulty with joint attention since they are often unable to focus on both the object and the person. An autistic child’s joint attention can be improved in various ways.
Copy what the child does
The first way is to join in whatever the child is doing. If a child is playing with a specific toy or object, you can simply copy it, then wait and observe what he does next, and then copy him again. You can maybe talk a bit about the activity you both are doing while following the child’s lead.
Focus on pointing
Pointing at something helps the child follow the gaze and attention towards the object, for instance, a ball. When someone points at the ball, the child will follow the gaze and gesture and respond to the shared attention to the ball.
Another strategy is to blow bubbles and ask the child to pop them. This helps support communication development as the child has joint attention and uses an isolated finger point to pop it.
Develop eye contact
Focus on developing eye contact and encourage the child to look at you. Making frequent eye contact is necessary, but it is also important to respond appropriately when the child initiates eye contact himself. Move your face closer to the child’s so that you are directly in his line of sight to help them keep eye contact.
Animated tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions
The use of animated tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions will help establish the child’s joint attention skills. Making funny sounds, gesturing towards things and maintaining engaging facial expressions help the child stay engaged and interested.
Rolling a ball
Rolling a ball among the two of you will help the child follow the ball and improve their attention skills. Take turns with the child with passing the ball back and forth, and use gestures when it’s their turn to keep them involved with the shared attention.
It is crucial for children with autism to learn to interact with people, but they are limited because of their communication difficulties. However, some of these strategies can help hem be more independent in future.